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.
DIGITAL NOMAD LIFESTYLE: CAN THE HYPE BE JUSTIFIED?
Is this so-called lifestyle overrated? Possibly.
I think there’s a certain debonair feeling attached to the idea of being a digital nomad. Being able to work from ‘anywhere in the world’ sounds fun, young, adventurous, and carefree. But is it? Or have we seen things from a rose-tinted glass? Glamorizing and romanticizing a particular kind of lifestyle that, we believe, would make our lives better, happier, and richer?
About four years into being a location-independent creative consultant/writer, I noticed that ‘The Lifestyle’ has been strongly associated with the idea of embracing freedom, endless traveling, and making money out of the Internet (including your blog, YouTube, or Instagram).
Most recent graduates I talked to are curious about how they, too, can adopt this lifestyle. Being able to work-from-anywhere has become their ultimate life goal (that, and being in a relationship). Some of the most recurring questions I got from time to time include:
How can I get paid to travel?
How can I find a job that will allow me to work from anywhere?
How can I be an ‘online influencer’?
Or for those who are already employed:
Should I quit my job to travel and be a digital nomad instead?
At some point, as these questions started coming in more frequently, I began to think that maybe (just maybe), there have been some misconceptions about this location-independent lifestyle and being a digital nomad. And maybe (just maybe), I can give another perspective to the many layers of this lifestyle based on my own experience.
But before we begin, let’s make sure that we’re on the same page.
Here is what Wikipedia says about being a digital nomad:
Digital nomads are a type of people who use telecommunications technologies to earn a living and, more generally, conduct their lives in a nomadic manner.
Here is what Daniele said about being location-independent:
To be location independent is not about having the freedom to travel, but the freedom to be anywhere you want (or, most importantly, NEED) to be.
With these being said, if you know someone who wants to adopt the digital nomad lifestyle, or has always been aspired to build a location-independent career, feel free to share this post with them.
1. WHY DO YOU WANT TO WORK FROM ANYWHERE?
Do you have the need/urge to do remote work, be a digital nomad, or be location-independent? Or do you merely want the freedom to travel more or longer?
I think this is the first question that you need to ask yourself. Do you want to adopt this lifestyle only because seemingly it will give you more chance and freedom to travel—or because you have the need or the urge to do it?
There are two reasons why I’m now working as a location-independent consultant/writer.
First, after my mother passed away a few years ago, my father lives in our family house all by himself. I want to have the freedom to be with him whenever I could; or should. For instance, when he got hospitalized for a few days and had to go for a series of physiotherapy last year, being location-independent allows me to be with him when needed: preparing healthy food, accompanying him to the therapy unit, and looking after his day-to-day progress for about two months.
I could imagine how stressful it would be if I were still working full-time in a corporation. Of course, I could apply for leave, but what if workloads were crazy, or if my teammates were also on holiday? What if I would still need to commute now and then to meet clients? And is it even possible for me to take a 2-month leave without feeling (or looking) bad? I don’t know.
But being location-independent allows me to be where I need to be. It gives me more flexibility to focus on what’s important or urgent at certain moments in life.
Second, after working for more than eight years in a communications consultancy (which I loved), I started to ask where it would lead me to. My last position was the Creative Director—a post I had been dreaming of since I was still in college. So, it was only natural for me to ask, where could I go from here? What would my career ladder look like from this point onwards? Where would I be if I continue this career of choice for another 5, 10, 15 years?
I could dream of something like a Managing Director, Vice President, Regional Director of a global communications agency, or maybe an owner of my own communications consultancy or creative agency. If everything goes well (and smooth), that’s how my career ladder would finally progress.
Then, I realized one thing: I don’t want them.
The images of those positions and possibilities do not excite me. The idea of managing hundreds of people or owning a successful agency is not something that amuses me.
I merely want to create things. I want to come up with excellent write-ups or meaningful stories. I want to tell stories that matter and to do something kind. I want to teach, to share the things and skills I’ve learned throughout the years. I want to do this based on my values, my interests, and the things I believe in—together with people I like and respect.
I decided to quit my job so I can do more of the things I have always wanted to do. Being independent also gives me more opportunities to work with smaller companies, individual clients, or NGOs, that could not afford to work with big consultancies.
These are my two reasons for choosing the location-independent lifestyle. What about you? What are your reasons? What are your whys? Do you have other reasons apart from wanting to travel more?
2. DO YOU SEE TRAVELING AS A BIG PART OF REMOTE WORKING?
Which one do you want? To work remotely and be location-independent, make a career out of traveling, or do anything as long as you can finance your travel?
Quite a lot of people I talked to would mention ‘traveling’ when asked about remote-working, being location-independent, or being a digital nomad. However, the truth is this: being location-independent or being able to work anywhere, does not mean that you have to travel regularly. You don’t. This also doesn’t mean that you have to do things that are related to traveling, like being a travel agent, travel photographer, travel writer, or travel blogger.
We’ve mentioned digital nomads before. According to the Wikipedia entry, they are the ones who live their lives in a more or less nomadic manner. They like to move from one place to the next while making a living through the Internet.
True, some digital nomads are travel bloggers or have travel-related work, but some also do other types of work that can be done as long as there’s an Internet connection. There are therapists, developers, designers, accountants, consultants, teachers, psychologists, business owners, entrepreneurs, start-up founders, personal assistants, and many more. The possibility is endless.
Being a digital nomad also doesn’t mean that you have to be a freelancer or own a business.
Many digital nomads are employed by a corporation or an organization that allows them to work remotely. Some require them to go back to their headquarters a few times a year, some don’t—but these people are more or less free to work from ‘anywhere’. Based on how good you are, the nature of your work, and the flexibility of your company or organization, remote-working can always be an option to be discussed.
On another hand, there are people who adopt a location-independent lifestyle. They might not travel or move around so much, but if they want to, they can work from ‘anywhere’ they like. For some, this means working from home or a cafe. For some, this means working from a co-working space in a foreign country, a bus station, or a secluded beach (but seriously, working with your laptop by the beach under the hot sun IS NOT nice—plus, where is the charger?).
So the idea is more on the ability to work from wherever you need or want to, not on the traveling part.
Some people are not only looking into being a digital nomad or being location independent. Some truly want to make a career out of traveling because it’s something they love or are good at. This is where all those travel-related jobs come into the picture.
Some others just want to travel—and are willing to do any work that can help to finance their travel. For instance, you’ll meet some people who do volunteer work abroad in exchange for food and accommodation. Some work as bartenders, hostel cleaners, or fruit pickers to get some money in between their travel destinations to support themselves. (I am not going to discuss the issue of legality here).
The question would be, which one do you want?
3. DO YOU HAVE THE MEANS TO SUPPORT YOURSELF?
Do you know the risks of choosing this lifestyle? Do you have enough savings and skills to start doing this? Do you have the right attitude to approach the lifestyle? Do you have a plan? Do you have a backup plan?
If you want to be a digital nomad or simply be location-independent (where you can work from ‘anywhere’) there’s one thing we need to clarify: before talking about being able to work from ‘anywhere’, first, you need to make sure that you CAN work, from wherever you are.
The thing is, as fun as it seems, being a digital nomad or being location-independent is not about beautiful Instagram pictures or slouching in bed with nighties and watching Netflix at 11 AM. Sure, it’s part of the deal—maybe 10% of the time if you’re lucky (or if you are an Instagram celebrity). The other 90% is similar to any typical working-class out there: work, peeking into your savings account, thinking about how to pay your bills, handling complaints, fixing problems, improving your skills and systems, and more work.
If you’re a freelancer, add up to this list more time, work, and energy to find clients, send offers or proposals, and go out networking to let people know that you (and your products/services) exist.
So, on the bottom line, this lifestyle is still about work. The question is not about how you can adopt a location-independent lifestyle. The question is: WHAT can you DO to adopt a location-independent lifestyle?
Do you have particular skills, attitudes, networks, or work experiences that will allow you to work from wherever you like? When you are not under close supervision, can you still give your best at work? When you can be flexible with your working hour, can you be disciplined about it? When you do not have your colleagues or partners next to you to discuss or brainstorm ideas, can you manage?
Especially if you are a freelancer without a fixed monthly salary, have enough savings before transitioning into this lifestyle. I would say that the ideal amount would be at least 3-4 months of your basic needs—enough to fulfil your monthly bills and responsibilities for a while.
I don’t like it when being a digital nomad or being location-independent is associated with being a burden for someone else, being childish, reckless, careless, or selfish. It shouldn’t be.
That’s why, apart from having enough savings, you also need to create a backup plan. What will happen if, after six months or a year, a location-independent lifestyle is not something you enjoy?
Sure, if you are employed, you might be able to go back to work from your company’s headquarter. But for freelancers, this could be even more challenging. How fast do you think you can find other jobs when the clock is ticking? Do you have a well-enough reputation that people will open their doors to give you work opportunities at the time when you most needed it?
Do you have other plans if things don’t go the way you want them to be?
I transitioned into my location-independent lifestyle with the compensation I got when I left my previous company (after eight years of service) and having the company as my 1-year retainer client. This means I know that—if everything’s okay—I will be quite well-off for about a year. Plus, I will still get monthly payments from my retainer client for at least another year.
There’s nothing reckless or careless about my decision, and I think neither should yours.
4. WILL WORK-FROM-ANYWHERE IMPROVE YOUR QUALITY OF LIFE?
How can you be a better professional or a better individual by doing this? How does it contribute to your quality of life and your career?
One of the reasons why a location-independent lifestyle suits me is because it improves the quality of different aspects of my life.
Working from home; when I am back in my family house in Bogor, enables me to spend some time with my father and my dog.
Working from Ubud—my second base when I’m in Bali, enables me easy access to beautiful views and the opportunity to live close to Nature; surrounded by a plethora of healthy and mindful stuff—from food and exercises to organic products and social activities. I can also benefit from the fact that Bali is an hour ahead of Jakarta, which means I am always 1 hour ahead of my clients. When I am up and ready at 10 AM, replying to emails or submitting some documents, office hours for my clients in Jakarta had just started.
For similar or even better quality than Jakarta, prices for memberships in co-working spaces, accommodation, as well as food and beverages are significantly lower. This means I can save more while enjoying a better quality of life in general. Although Ubud was relatively quiet, it is still quite near to big cities like Denpasar—where I can fix my gadgets or laptops when necessary.
Another reason why I choose Ubud, Bali, as my base and Hubud as my co-working space is because it provides me with a vibrant and creative ecosystem where I can meet people, discuss, collaborate, and learn some new skills from other members.
To be honest, when it comes to focused work and meeting deadlines, I love doing solitary work from my rented house. I work best alone, so I don’t work from the co-working space on a daily basis. But I still need a community of like-minded people to function.
It can be uninspiring at times when you’re always working solo. It’s important for me to bounce ideas with different people and learn about other people’s perspectives. It keeps my mind curious, intrigued, and active. It keeps me up-to-date with what’s happening in the world. Inspiring talks, skillshare, and events organized by co-working spaces are always fun because they provide me with ideas I could apply in my next projects—or even in my personal life.
On another note, being location-independent also enables me to provide more corporate training or workshop outside Jakarta when needed, without having to worry about travel time or having to leave ‘the office’ for too long. It also gives me more opportunities to join classes, courses, or workshops on writing or crafting, even when they happen on a weekday, during office hours.
Since I am also in a long-distance relationship, being location-independent gives me more flexibility to spend some quality time with my partner. It helps that he is also a location-independent entrepreneur, so we don’t have to rely on the number of our leave days to meet up.
So, for me, a location-independent lifestyle merely works because it improves my quality of life. Isn’t that what we’re all looking for?
For some, however, a location-independent lifestyle could—on the contrary—decrease their quality of life.
Some people could be so happy to finally be able to work from home but end up frustrated because working from home gives them too many distractions. Children are crying or seeking attention, a salesperson is knocking on the door, something spills on the kitchen floor and they just have to clean things up. Since working from home doesn’t work, they allocate some time to go out and work from a coffee shop instead, only to realize that they have spent more time and money every day on driving down to the coffee shop, buying coffee, and paying for gas and parking. These are the time and expenses they thought they wouldn’t be spending when they are working from home.
Working from “anywhere in the world” can also pose a few logistical complexities. How do you know where to get healthcare if you’re working in a completely different country for a few weeks? What about prescriptions and other must-haves that you’ve grown comfortable with? Although with the Internet we can get everything from medicine to something as random as Versace eyeglasses in just a few clicks, these problems will eventually catch up. To be honest, some things in the world are just a lot easier when you have a stable residence: sending and receiving packages, upgrading your Internet speed, sorting stuff out with your banks, paying taxes, contacting an accountant…
Familiarity and convenience aren’t bad things. So, just know that this can go out the window if you move to a different location to work on a regular basis.
When you’re working from another city or country, do ask yourself whether you have chosen a place that can improve your quality of life and fit your lifestyle. If being location-independent only makes you even more stressed, worrisome, and miserable, what is the point?
5. ARE YOU READY FOR THE HARD WORK?
Can you develop self-discipline and daily habits to support this lifestyle? Can you still meet your roles and responsibilities at home or at work?
Freedom can be an advantage or a disadvantage. Some things flourish when they are given a lot of freedom; others might perish. What about you? Are you ready for the hard work despite the freedom and flexibility you will have when you can work from ‘anywhere’ in the world?
Once, I was assigned to be a host on a fam trip that invited some local and international travel bloggers. For those of you who think that being a professional travel blogger is fantastic, think again. Throughout the trip, I realized that I could never be a professional travel blogger.
These travel bloggers had to stick to a too-packed itinerary, sometimes only get a 4-hour sleep before hopping on a 6-hour bus ride, then off for the second flight of the day. At each destination, they needed to take pictures, record videos, fly a drone, listen to the guide’s explanations, and write down some information for their blog post. On the bus, the boat, or the plane, they started transferring and editing their pictures and videos, because they needed to post something every single day. They had to try foods they didn’t like, visit places they were scared of, or get involved in activities they hated.
But work is work.
I, myself, instantly passed out every time I saw the hotel’s bed. I stole some sleep on the bus, the boat, or the plane whenever I could. Those travel bloggers? They worked. I was amazed at their stamina and dedication. I wouldn’t be able to do that.
I am the kind of ‘travel blogger’ who goes on a journey somewhere and write about it three years later, then taking pictures from a stock photo website because I have accidentally deleted the travel-picture folder on my laptop.
So no matter how ‘glorious’ it might seem, work is work. Hard work is hard work.
And just because you’re a digital nomad or a location-independent worker, it doesn’t mean that you can ditch your roles and responsibilities—both at home or at work. Faraway doesn’t mean non-existent. Just because you can still be in pyjamas at 11 in the morning (lazying around with a bag of chips), doesn’t mean you should. Just because now you have the freedom (and hopefully, the means) to travel anywhere and anytime you like, doesn’t mean you would.
Now that you have come to the end of this post, is being location-independent still sound promising to you?
I think it’s human nature to think that the grass is greener on the other side. The truth is, there are many miserable digital nomads and struggling location-independent workers around. On the contrary, some of my closest friends are thriving and having fun climbing the corporate ladder in multi-national companies.
Here’s the thing: if you can’t be happy working from where you are right now, most probably, you will find something to be unhappy about when working from anywhere else. Just make sure that you have prepared yourself and answered the five questions above truthfully before making the jump to adopt a location-independent lifestyle.
Because truly being location-independent means you are always your independent self, wherever you are.
PS: If you have more questions about being a digital nomad or a location-independent lifestyle, feel free to drop me an email here.
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; akind 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.
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]
I didn’t expect this one to be such a long article (5,000+ words, so you better really want to know about this to read it!). So, in late December, I got some email questions from the blog’s readers, asking me what to do if they want to get paid to write.
I was thinking if I could also write about it in the blog, for everyone to read. So, I did.
This is my elaborate reply to those emails. Do you want to get paid to write? This is what I can sum up from my experience.
Build Your Writing Muscle + Mentality
1. Stick to a habit of writing practice.
If you’d like to get paid to write, understand that you need to let go of writing solely as art. It has now also become a job, an occupation, a commitment. We are not allowed to use bad mood (or for writers maybe ‘good mood’) or writer’s block as an excuse not to write. Not wanting to write is not an excuse not to write. If you’d like to get paid to write, start by building a muscle and mentality for it; to start approaching writing the way you would approach any job: with an amount of determination, dedication, commitment, and passion.
With that being said, commit yourself to a block of time every single day, to do your writing practice. Writing practice is not journaling, although journaling is better than not writing at all. What I meant by writing practice here is having at least 15 minutes a day to improve your writing skills. Do you have any difficulties when it comes to writing non-fiction? Do you think you’re weak in grammar? Do you think you need to know more about how to describe a place?
Then set up a time to practice writing (not reading!) about it, improving your skills every single day. Is there a certain kind of writing job you’d like to have? Do you want to write an e-book? A culinary review? A magazine article? Viral content on user-generated content websites? Then start writing about them. Make them a part of your writing practice.
I have always wanted to learn writing about food-related essays, so I started practicing and came up with these two: instant noodles and coffee.
2. Read & learn more about what you want to can write.
I have more than 30+ books about writing on my Kindle, and probably around 50+ more in my computer; or lying around on the shelf next to my working desk. When I find an article I love on the Internet, I bookmark and save it and read it again, and again, trying to find out what makes this article so captivating. I study the way the writer structure the whole piece, and try to emulate it; only to find out how it might work.
At this point in time, when attention-span is getting shorter, writing short for the Internet could be something you’d like to learn more about. On the other hand, there are still great long essays and in-depth articles out there on the web, so writing long for the Internet could also be something you’re interested in. No matter what it is you’re interested in, learn more, and read more.
Do not limit yourself to learning only about what you want to write. Whenever you can, also learn more about the things you can write. If you want to get paid to write, having the ability to write an article, an e-book, a novel, an essay, a sales page, a short story, a wedding vow, and a 7-minute YouTube video script would give you a better competitive advantage than a writer who can only write a short story.
Can you get paid only for writing a short story? Of course, you can.
Can you get more job opportunities if you can write an article, an e-book, an essay, a sales page, a short story, a wedding vow, and a 7-minute YouTube video script? Of course, you can.
So do we really have to learn about what we can write instead of just learning about what we want to write? I would say that the answer is really up to you.
However, when I first started out, I did not limit myself to a certain kind of writing. I wanted to learn and experience many kinds of writing, as much as possible. Later on in life, when we’ve made a name for ourselves, we might finally have the luxury to say that we only want to choose a certain kind of writing or accept a certain writing job. When first starting out, though, I’d like to keep myself open.
Moreover, how do I know what I really want if I haven’t had the chance to see what’s available out there, right?
If you’re thinking about getting paid to write because you’d like to have the freedom of working from anywhere in the world, find out the recent trends for content creation on the Internet, and hone your skills to respond to that. Check out some sites like Trendwatching, Mashable (Creative), or CoSchedule blog for some sparks of inspiration about what kind of writing jobs might be needed, and how we can prepare ourselves for a writing job that might not yet exist (but soon, will).
3. Get a (healthy) reality check.
How do you know if you have written something good, or something bad?
From my previous experience, getting feedback from families and friends IS NOT the right way to go. Either they’d tell the things they thought you’d like to hear; or on the contrary, tell something that hurt your feelings, friends or families are just not the right people to give honest and objective feedback (I still love my friends and families, though!).
The first time I learned about writing short stories, I joined a local writer’s group called Kemudian.com, where we could publish our work and get stars, comments, and feedback from other writers.
From this group, I learned that writing ‘beautifully’ is not enough. When you’re writing a short story, readers are craving for plots, for action, for something that would propel the story forward. I got all this feedback and try to improve myself based on some comments or loopholes other writers found in my story. Joining a writer’s group gives me the opportunity of being vulnerable, by sending out my unfinished work to the world: to be judged.
For me, it was really a good exercise to expose my writings to be judged. When you get paid to write and get commissioned works, like it or not, you’ll receive judgments (in many forms) from your clients on the work you’ve done. And trust me, they are not always kind. Thus, if you want to get paid to write, you need to have thick skin to not take critics personally, and just get yourself used to it.
This is why joining a writer’s group is something I would recommend. However, please bear in mind these 2 things before joining any writer’s group:
1) DO NOT TAKE CRITICISM PERSONALLY. Just because your writing is bad, doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer. If your writing is bad, find ways to improve it. If someone said your character is weak, find some ideas on how to make it stronger. If someone said your first paragraph is boring, find some resources on how to make an attention-grabbing first paragraph. Criticism is not an attack on you as a person, nor as a writer. Learn how to see critics objectively. Learn how to separate your work from yourself, or else you’ll be doomed for many heartaches along the way.
2) ONLY TAKE CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM AND IGNORE THE HATERS. Some people criticized because they care, while some others are being critical simply because they do not care. Learn to know the difference. Ignore hate comments, and concentrate only on constructive criticism directly related to your work. Protect your energy from negative vibes.
How to find a writer’s group for you?
Find a group by searching it online, if possible, find a specific group for the kind of writings you’d like to submit (poetry group, short story, etc.)
Ask other fellow writers for any recommendation of an existing writer’s group in your area
If there is none, create one. You can gather 3-4 writers, the exchange works via email, and give comments and feedback once a week.
4. Trust yourself and be a confident writer.
This could be the hardest thing to do. How do you tell people how to trust? I don’t really know how a non (or less) confident writer could build confidence. I think it’s something you need to work on personally.
If you’re not confident about your writings or about yourself as a writer, try to ask yourself when, or in which situation these doubts started to bubble up. Was it something someone told you many years ago when you were a teenager? Was it that time when your parents told you that being a writer could not sustain you? Was it that time when you submitted your work to a magazine and got rejected?
The thing is, to get paid to write, you need to offer your skills to those who would pay you to do the things you love: to write. How would you get someone to work with you and pay you to write if you do not believe in yourself? If you do not believe that you cando it? If you do not believe that you are good enough to get paid for what you wrote?
This is also the title of a book by Austin Kleon that happens to be one of my favorite non-fiction books of all time. And if you haven’t read it, I would strongly suggest you get it and start reading.
To build your name and portfolio as a writer, this is what you need to do: showcase your write-ups, as frequently as you can. Either posting articles on your personal blog, writing for user-generated content websites, a thoughtful Facebook note, a witty Twitter update, a thought-provoking LinkedIn post, an informative Instagram caption… whatever that may be, show your work!
If your friend is consistently posting a love poem every Friday evening for a year, you would think of that friend as ‘the love poet’. So, share and show your work, frequently, consistently, and confidently! Showing your work is also a way for you to get feedback, but most of all, it’s a way for you to just show up to work and to stop trying to be perfect.
If you do not show your work, nobody would know about it. If you keep your work only for yourself, nobody would get a chance to see it. To get paid to write, you need to show your work.
2. Build your portfolio.
The next thing you would need is a portfolio. Think of it as a catalog for your potential clients. Samples of write-ups in your blog, articles you’ve published in user-generated content websites, or viral reviews you’ve made somewhere else on the Internet… all these could be included in your portfolio.
However, most clients would ask whether you’ve been working with some other clients before; or not. Basically, they would want to know if you’ve gotten paid to write before. If you haven’t, they would think: 1) you’re not good enough, nobody wants to work with you; 2) you’re new and inexperienced.
So another good way to build a portfolio is by offering your services pro bono (or for a very friendly price) to a client.
Would you like to have a portfolio on writing about restaurants and culinary? Shoot out an email to as many restaurants as you can, and offer them a pro bono service to be included in your portfolio later on. Either it’s writing an article about their restaurants for a magazine, improving the copy of their website, editing some of their promotion materials… do some works related to the services you’ll be offering your future clients.
Take up 2-3 restaurants that received your offer, start working, and build your portfolio. Do not forget to state clearly that you would need this project to be included in your portfolio, and that the restaurant’s name or logo would be appearing as a client of yours on your website (if any) or in your promotion materials. Make sure they agree on this.
Another way to build your portfolio is to contact non-profit organizations in your area and ask them whether they need a hand for any writing-related project. Building your portfolio while doing good and volunteering your skills would be meaningful work!
Keep your work samples in one folder, and if possible, upload it online to a document-sharing app. The next time a client asks about your previous works, you can send them an email with links to your work samples!
Even if it’s an unpaid work, you are building your portfolio here, so make sure that you’re doing really good work! You’ll be using these works as samples of how good you are. It’s your showcase. And these non-paying (or low-paying) clients are your first few clients! Make sure they appreciate your work (and craving for more!).
If your pro bono client is happy with your work, ask for a testimonial. Ask for permission to use the testimonial in your website, or in any other promotional materials you have.
3. Take part in relevant communities & networking events.
If you’d like to write novels, attend networking events where you can meet with other novel writers, novel readers, and novel publishers. If you’d like to write for fashion brands, join their communities, attend their events, get to know the people in the industry, get to know the agencies they are working with. Surround yourself with these people: with your future competitors, future clients, future middlemen, future assistants, future consumers.
Once you’re there, what should you do?
Absorb as much knowledge as you can, find out any information or contacts you would need, get to know the latest trend and updates in the industry. Those who listen learn more than those who talk. Use this opportunity to learn the industry dynamics.
But, above all, be a good listener, and be helpful.
I would also like to say be entertaining, but not all of us are blessed with the skill to entertain others. So, be a good listener. It is entertaining to have a good listener in the crowd. Find out ways how you can help others. Does someone need to get in touch with someone you know? Get them introduced. Does someone need advice on where to go this weekend? Does someone need to know where the restroom is?
Be helpful. You’ll never know when these random faces and names would come to your assistance, but they would, someday. Someday, they would.
4. Find a mentor and be their ‘intern’.
I learned everything I need to know about writing business letters and documents from my ex-boss. He is my mentor when it comes to business writing.
As a former investigative journalist turned a communications consultant, he would sit with me for hours, correcting my grammar, style, structure, as well as a selection of words. He would ask me about my thinking process, about why I choose to write a certain thing following a certain flow, about what will happen if this paragraph is erased, about why the writing is not as witty as it should be.
From writing a pitch email to a full-fleshed proposal, from a report’s summary to a press release, I learned through him: by reading what he wrote, by listening to what he said, by improving through his criticisms, by exposing myself to voluntarily writing more documents. Only by doing this, I get more opportunities to be mentored: thus more opportunities to accelerate my growth!
At the time I was working there a few years ago, my boss’ professional fee would be something around US$1,200-1,700, per hour. When I volunteered myself to write more business documents, I got more time to be mentored, and I did not have to pay anything (on the contrary, he paid me my salary!).
They say you are the average of the 5 people you’re closest to. If you want to get paid to write, make sure that one of those people is your mentor.
How to find a mentor if you’re not working for one?
Find a writer you respect, someone you would want to ‘intern with’. Try to get in touch with the writer, either by attending events where he/she speaks, commenting on his/her blog posts, or writing an email complimenting his/her writings. Try to do this for some time, probably 1-2 months, before asking for any opportunity to be mentored. It is necessary to build a relationship and get the ‘potential mentor’ to notice you, and get warm to you. It is very opportunistic if the very first time you contact him/her is only when you’d like to get mentored.
If you have quite a decent amount of money you can spend to pay your mentor, feel free to ask his/her rate to become your writing mentor. I do believe in a healthy exchange of energy. Paying your mentor would not only show how much you respect his/her time and credibility, it would also make you feel more serious and committed in doing this mentorship.
If you do not have the money to pay a mentor (or if your mentor’s fee is just way too high than what you can afford to offer), offer your time and skills. Tell your mentor about some of your work experience and skills, and offer your help in assisting him/her in any writing projects he/she might have at the moment.
By working under their guidance and supervision, you can actually learn faster. You’re not only learning about the craft of writing itself, but you will also learn about how to approach writing as a daily job. Most of the time, if you perform well enough, your mentor could also be the one recommending you to take job offers he/she couldn’t handle.
5. Go out and teach what you know.
Knowledge is multiplied when shared. So, if you have time, go out and teach what you know about writing. I love teaching; because the more I teach, the more I know about what I didn’t know before. Teaching is another way of learning, of improving ourselves, of transferring our mind into someone else’s mind. It’s an interesting process. As you teach, you’ll learn a few skills you’ll need to deal with a client: empathy, patience, persuasion skills, and energy management.
How do you put yourself in the shoes of someone who doesn’t even know how to start writing? How can you explain things step by step, slowly, in a way that can be easily digested and understood? How would you keep them excited about learning more, about knowing more, about keep learning instead of giving up? How is it possible for you to stay positive and supportive after trying to explain the same thing over and over again, something you would deem ‘so easy’ but turn out to be ‘really difficult’ for others?
Thinking about taking a course in handling difficult clients? Try teaching a bunch of elementary school students.
Find Work + Keep It
1. Decide on your starting price.
You’ll need to set-up a fee for your write-ups because it’s time for you to get a job and get paid for it. How much? It depends on how you value your work, but to get close to being objective, ask some of your ‘free clients‘:”If you have the budget and could pay me for what I did, how much money would you feel comfortable to spend on it?”
Then build your fee based on the answer.
When you’ve built your portfolio and have had some satisfied clients, you could always raise your fee accordingly.
2. Browse for jobs and commissioned works.
Now that you want to get paid to write, start looking for jobs and commissioned works. How? There are 2 ways to do this.
First, you can find many sites offering writing jobs online, only by typing the keyword on search engines. Although it’s quite comfortable to find commissioned work this way, the downside is this: you are competing with many writers. Some with many stars and reviews, and have worked for 50+ online clients before. If you’re just starting out, you might feel a bit overwhelmed by this. However, try signing up for this service to find a potential client in your area who might need your writing service.
The second way is more traditional, but I actually prefer this one. There’s a reason why you go to community or networking events and build relationships with those in your line of work. There’s a reason why you need to be a good listener and be helpful to them. Now, it’s time to tell them that you have ‘just finished a project’ and have the capacity to take up some writing jobs. Do they know anyone who might need help in writing a copy, a blog post, an article, an e-book?
I found this to be more effective than fishing jobs online, at least based on my experience. This is also one of the reasons why Build Your Name + Portfolio is in Step 2, something you should be doing before even trying to find commissioned works.
The thing is this: if you have built your name and portfolio well, the chance is you would have had some offers to do commissioned work already!
3. Accept the job!
I don’t really like to write about that. It’s not my kind of thing. It’s not paying as much as I hope it would. It’s a boring job. It’s not as prestigious. It’s just a small project. If you’re thinking this way and about to turn down an offer on a writing job, ask yourself this question: at this stage, can I afford to turn down this offer?
Now that writing is a job, or a source of decent income, or something that will put some food on the dining table, would you have the luxury to only receive commissioned works you like? Or would you do the commissioned works you have the capacity and capability to do?
There is no right or wrong answer to this. It’s a choice, and you are free to decide for yourself.
My background is as a communications consultant. I worked mostly with big brands and corporations before, so it would only natural that when I quit my consulting job and started offering my service as a writer, I got a big chunk of commissioned works related to writing business documents.
Would I choose to work on something else?
Of course. Give me scripts for wedding videos, human-interest articles, personal essays or e-book writing, even popular reports. Do I accept the ‘business document’ job?
Because I know I have the capacity and the capability of doing it. Because I can get a decent income from this work while traveling. Because I want to help them to get this work done. Because I want to keep practicing and sharpening my skills in writing business documents. Because it’s a job and I’m grateful for getting it.
How long would I keep doing this? As long as necessary. As long as I am not cramped with 100+ requests to write a wedding video script; to the point that I cannot take any offers for writing business documents. As long as I still want to have some traveling funds in my savings account.
The truth is this: no matter how passionate you are about what you do, when it becomes a job, at one point or another, you’ll just have to deal with things you’re not so comfortable with. I think this is where we got it wrong when it comes to the term do what you love, and we imagine this perfect day when we can only do the things we want to do. But what about seeing it this way: it is exactly because you REALLY LOVE what you do, you CAN put up with some uncomfortable things along the way, and DO IT anyway.
If you love it that much, you won’t just quit when things get hard.
4. Get to know your middlemen (or women).
Some of my commissioned works came not from the client directly, but from the client’s agents, partners, or even the client’s friends. Most of the works came in through referrals. It was someone-suggesting-me-to-someone-else situation. I found this to be the most convenient way of getting commissioned work.
If you want to get paid to write, get to know your middlemen. These are the people who can actually hand over some works to you. They might not be the client, but they have access to your potential clients. And they may need your service.
For instance, agencies (communication, advertising, content production) could be your middlemen if you’re thinking about writing for big brands. So get to know them. When you bump into any writing-related information they would find interesting, inform them about it.
Is there a new trend in website copywriting? Is there a new project about writing a novel via Twitter? Is there a groundbreaking formula to write sales pages that convert? Share this information with them. Let them start seeing you as an expert, as someone who is always updated to the latest trend, as someone who cares, as someone they would call whenever they have job opportunities.
How do you know who are your middlemen? By joining related communities and attending networking events. That’s why we need to do this as we’re building our name and portfolio.
5. Reach out + collaborate.
When you want to get paid to write, you can’t just write and be happy with that. You also need to sell your services.
Like it or not, you need to market yourself, promote your services, and close the deal with a client for a commissioned work.
I think most of us writers (including myself) are not that comfortable with selling. Most probably because we’ve been exposed to ‘hard selling’: the pushy, make-you-feel-guilty-and-annoyed type of thing. When we’re thinking about selling, we’re thinking about THAT kind of selling.
But let’s put it this way. You’re out there about to buy a new laptop. With so many options available, you really don’t know which one to buy. There are so many options with the budget you have and many different specs. Which one to choose?
How many of you would feel grateful to have a helpful, informative, and genuine salesperson trying to help you find the best laptop for you? How many of you would appreciate it when he said, “Oh, you want to use it for designing stuff? This is the best for design works because it has this and that and that… and it is actually voted the friendliest laptop for designers in this magazine…”
How many of you would appreciate THAT instead of a salesperson who just shrugs; and without listening to what you really need in a laptop, insists on offering you laptop A: the most expensive in the store?
If you’re a helpful, informative, and genuine salesperson, would you still feel bad about selling?
Or if we change the word selling into ‘helping’, would you be more comfortable in offering your services? If, instead of thinking what-can-I-sell-today, we think how-I-can-help-out-today, would you see selling in a better light?
When you’re about to reach out to a client offering your services, ask yourself first: what is the one thing I know I can really help him with?
Send this email. It is actually a sales email.
If you’re still not comfortable with this (or if at some point you want to reach more new clients), collaborate. Find a friend or a colleague who is really good in selling. Someone you’d like to talk to all day. Someone who is really good with people. Then, collaborate with him. Ask him if he would sell your services and get a commission for every deal being made.
We’re always stronger together, aren’t we?
6. Your ideal job and where to find them.
So, you’ve always wanted to write food-related articles for food-related clients?
Now that you’ve had enough commissioned works to sustain yourself, and you have made a name for yourself out there, start offering your specific service for a specific client during the weekends (or when you’re not busy working on other commissioned works).
Create an offer on some writing services you can do for restaurants; or for those who want to make recipe books, or to improve the copy of a restaurant’s websites. Show off your portfolio in this subject. Offer a competitive starting price or a discount to get more of your ‘ideal clients’ at this stage. Test the waters. See if you can get enough work from this niche alone in 3-6 months.
The day you get more ideal jobs than you could handle is the day when you can turn down jobs you do not really like; or the day when you can hand over those jobs to someone else. Maybe it’s time for you to branch out and hire other writers to work for you!
The idea here is to get paid to pursue your ideal job. If you have the luxury of starting out with enough savings; so you could exclusively pursue your ideal job, then you’re lucky! If you don’t, like most of us might be, work on other writing jobs while pursuing your ideal jobs.
7. Strive to be a kind person.
More than striving to be a good writer, strive to be a good person. Be kind. This is how you’ll keep the job. Always give more than you can take, always be a helping hand whenever you can, always hand in your best work, always show up in your best mood possible.
This is the thing: when someone gives you commissioned works, they don’t necessarily hire your services. They hire you. YOU are the reason why they give this job to you, and not to someone else. To be honest, we are not that unique. There are many people out there who can write business documents or wedding video scripts. There are many writers out there who can do what we do. A client chooses you because they want to work with you: as a writer, and as a person.
In reality, the more clients you work with, the more hard times you would probably experience. Maybe the clients are not satisfied with your work, maybe they are not treating you well, maybe the two of you are just not a match-made-in-heaven for this project, maybe they find someone who can perform the same work for a better price, maybe you’re feeling stuck working on this project and you wanted to drop it off…
Whatever it might be, when you have a hard time making decisions, when you have to turn down a deal, to send THAT scary email, to make THAT uncomfortable phone call, ask yourself: “If I am kind, what would I do in this situation?”
And just know: that in the long run, being kindwins over being right.
I also feel like I’ve changed a bit (or even a lot) throughout the years, and it’s only natural that the things that once excited me didn’t excite me any longer–or vice versa. So, each year, apart from leaving the crossed-off list intact, I also examine the rest of my list to see if I want to alter one wish for another.
I keep my 100-list because these random (and somewhat silly) things reminded me of how, as a child, I looked at the world every single day with wonder and amazement. Of how I imagined a future of my own, without thinking about what’s possible or what’s impossible. Of how I believed that wishes–no matter how odd, could actually come true.
We were at the famous Pink Beach in Flores, when I admitted to my friend, Ramon, that I had this certain ‘fear’ of swimming in the sea. I am not a good swimmer, and I just learned how to float in a swimming pool two years ago. So, I am still a nervous swimmer in a swimming pool, let alone in the sea–although I love snorkeling (with a life vest on).
“Well, let’s face your fear, then,” said Ramon. “Just trust that if you spread yourself like a starfish in the water, you’ll float. Let’s do this,” he handed me the snorkeling gear. “Just spread yourself like a starfish and surrender. Stay calm. Do not even try to swim. You’ll float. I am here. And the water is only as high as our waists, so you won’t drown.”
So, I tried several times to beat my fear. To not try to swim. To not panicking. To just breathing calmly and spreading my arms and legs like a starfish. After around an excruciating half an hour, I floated. My head was underwater, but the snorkeling gear helped me to breathe. I remembered the breathing exercise in my yoga practice and tried to breathe as calmly as I could.
I saw the fish swimming underneath, I heard nothing but my own breath.
I surrender, and I float.
A few months ago in Raja Ampat, I swam in the sea (a bit more confidently than before), and manage to float on my back, just floating mindlessly while looking at the cloudy sky. And helped a dear friend to float in the sea, and he swam for the very first time there.
It’s a full circle.
TWO: Going on a cruise.
In mid-2014, I stopped in Bulukumba during a work trip in Sulawesi and amazed by rows and rows of almost-finished Phinisi boats by the coast.
A Phinisi is a traditional Indonesian sailing ship, characterized by its two masts and seven sails of different sizes. The boat is built traditionally, following the Bugis-Makassar design, involving 4-6 skilled workers per boat. No metals are used to make the boat–only bent ironwoods. A sacred ritual is performed before a boat is made and before it is launched to the sea. It is also said that the builders working on the boat must be kept happy–since sadness or grudges when building the boat might compromise its safety.
I was invited to sit and have some tea by one of the Phinisi builders, who told me that they were building cruise ships. Most of their customers are French. The builder shared some designs of the boats they were working on: the bedroom, the kitchen, the living room, the deck…
I dreamed of cruising the vast ocean in one of those majestic Phinisi boats, of sun-bathing on its deck, of sleeping in its stylish cabin.
Who would have known that last year, I was invited on a trip that didn’t put a Phinisi cruise on the itinerary in the first place; but due to some circumstances, I ended up cruising with a Phinisi ship around the Flores Sea!
To stay on a boat for 2 days and 1 night was definitely the highlight of my 2016! I decided to ditch the comfortable bed inside the cabin and slept on the deck; feeling the night breeze and waking up to the twinkling stars.
I dreamed about being a botanist in the 18th century, having a year-long journey on an explorer’s ship, trying to find medicinal plants in the Far East.
THREE: Colouring my hair ‘pink’.
When I was in college, PINK was my girl-crush and I embraced all of her songs by heart. Probably this is the reason why I have always wanted to color my hair pink. I couldn’t do this when I was still working in a consultancy (and hoping that my corporate clients could take me seriously), so one of the things I’d like to do when I went independent was to dye my hair pink.
I went to a hair salon; but after 4 times of bleaching, my hair refused to be ‘white’. I couldn’t stand more hours sitting in a salon, smelling bleach solutions, and exposing my scalp to this chemical thing, so I said: “OK. Forget about pink. What color can I get right now, without more bleaching?”
The hairstylist told me that bright violet will do. So that was what I got: bright violet hair instead of pink. But I thought it’s time to cross this one off my list. Like, pink and bright violet, what’s the difference, right? 😛
FOUR: Learning basic Italian.
One of my favorite writers, Jhumpa Lahiri, moved to Italy from the US. She wanted to immerse herself in the Italian language by only speaking and writing in Italian. Recently, she published a book about the experience, in Italian. I wanted to learn the language because of this. Apart from that, my boyfriend is Italian. So, I guess, this makes sense!
FIVE: Climbing a tree.
Okay, so I didn’t really ‘climb’ a tree. But the last time I was in Ubud, Bali, I had a short trip to Bedugul Botanical Garden for an adventurous afternoon in Bali Tree Top Park. Basically, it’s an adventure park in the midst of the lush canopy of green, where you can climb, jump, and swing from tree to tree, around 2 – 20 meters high above the ground (you can choose your ‘circuit’ based on your adrenaline pump).
I won’t call myself physically adventurous, but I have to say that I enjoyed this experience more than I thought I would. It was one of those moments when I had pushed myself out of my comfort zone and realized that it wasn’t so bad after all (although it involved screaming and huffing and being pale)!
SIX: Coming back to a European city I once visited.
I am back in Amsterdam, in winter. For those people who know me well, they know I am the type of person who will switch off the air conditioner in her hotel room; even in hot ‘spots’ like Jakarta or Ubud. I love the sun. I love hot weather, and I can take more heat than I could the cold.
The last time I visited Amsterdam was in 2015, during summer–and even then, the city gave me some cold rain showers. So, I was nervous about my winter trip, plus it was 3°C as I landed.
For the next 2 days, even inside a house with a heater blaring at 20°C, I was covered in a few layers of clothes, winter coats, and blankets. On the third day, my body must have adjusted to the cold somehow (or I’ve eaten enough fatty foods!) but the cold didn’t bother me as much. I was at home in shorts and tank tops ever since. (I’ve found a great indie second-hand bookshop as well when it was 0°C outside, but that would go for another post!).
SEVEN: Live in an ashram/monastery for a week.
It was not a real ashram or monastery, but I went to a week of silent retreat in the mountains. We woke up at 4 in the morning every day and did around 5 hours of sitting meditation per day (apart from doing physical exercise and listening to spiritual guidance). During the whole week, we were not allowed to talk (to others and to ourselves), sing/whistle, nor to read or write. We were not allowed to watch TV, listen to radios, or looking at our phones (phones and wallets were confiscated before the retreat started).
Basically, it was just me and my thoughts. Without external disturbances, I felt as if my senses were heightened. I was more sensitive to listen to what my body is trying to say. My mind was clear. I was reconnected with myself.
I imagined this was how living in an ashram/monastery would feel and look like, so I decided to cross this off of my list.
EIGHT: Publishing an illustrated children’s book.
Okay, not many people knew this, not even my closest friends. But a few years ago, I went to Alor Island with a friend to read some stories to the kids there. Not only reading to them, but I also decided to ask them to write stories about their lives. So, under the candlelight (electricity is scarce), they wrote their stories and read them aloud afterward.
Based on some of these stories, combined with my own imagination, I developed some short stories about the life of the kids in Alor–then I sent it out to my friend. She loved it and told me that she wanted to have them illustrated, printed, and shipped back to the kids of Alor.
A few months ago, she told me that the book was republished and sold in the biggest chain of bookstores in the country, Gramedia. It is an illustrated storybook called Kisah dari Alor (Stories from Alor). I couldn’t believe it! I didn’t expect the stories to go ‘so far’.
I wish I could have written the stories better, to shape it better, to perfect it a bit… but then I realized that an imperfect work being sent out to the world is better than a perfect work that is never completed!
What about you? Do you have your 100-list, too? Are there some dreams or wishes from your childhood that are still close to your heart until today?
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 neverafter 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 Luwakor 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:
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.
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!
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.
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.
I think it’s fair to say that this one is not going to be a quick read, so if you’re in a hurry, you may want to revisit this post later on. But if you’re ready, let’s roll!
“So, what’s your New Year’s resolution?”
You might have heard this–or being exposed to this question. Especially now that we’ve gone through our first few weeks in the new year. You may scoffed at that question. Or you may simply be reminded of your own New Year’s resolution. The one you made on New Year’s Eve.
I was one of those people who did both (scoffed at the question, but actually wrote down my New Year’s resolution). I no longer scoff at that question now, but I still–to some extent, write down my New Year’s resolution in a slightly different manner (after reading The Desire Map by Danielle LaPorte).
But we’ll get back to that later.
My point is, I have written down my New Year’s resolution probably since I was 12. And I didn’t really feel like it was (ever) ‘working’–whatever ‘working’ is supposed to mean in this context. I was simply scribbling mine ecstatically; and in the following year realised that, hey, I didn’t achieve those things, but who cares?
So I forgot about it and moved on with life.
But that was when I didn’t know any better.
Now, before we continue…
Let’s do this experiment just for the fun of it. I want you to write 5 things you’d like to do, achieve, or have this year. In other words, your New Year’s resolution. You can write down whatever you like. If you can think of 10 or 30 things, just pick 5. If you can only think of 1 thing, try to add more until you get 5, just to stretch your mind a bit.
Probably you’ve written down stuff like getting healthier. Losing weight. Getting married. Having a new car. Traveling to exotic places. Quitting your job. Being fluent in Italian. Spending more time volunteering. Learning how to become a professional chef. Whatever they might be, just write them down freely now.
Done? OK. Keep that note with you for a while (it will come in handy later!)
In the mean time, I think these could be the 3 most plausible reasons on why my (or your) New Year’s resolution doesn’t work.
1. We don’t really want those things. We only think that we should want them.
Probably we don’t really want a new job. We don’t really want to pay a down payment for a house. Maybe we are not really into traveling, and actually prefer to stay at home, doing our hobbies or spending time with our families.
But we sometimes write down the things we don’t really want, simply because our circle of friends or families (or societies) believe that we should want those things. Because our parents think of those things as the epitome of success. Or because our friends told us that quitting our job to travel is the coolest thing to do–ever! Or because society believes that it’s indeed very respectable to climb the corporate ladder.
2. The things we desire may be fun to have, experienced, or achieved, but actually they are not really important for our lives.
When we created our New Year’s resolution, we may wrote down so many things we wanted to have, experience, or achieve. Now, from all those things, how many of them are truly important? Or let me rephrase: if we can’t have, experience, or achieve them, how would our lives be affected?
If our lives would still be (relatively) fine even when we couldn’t get those things we want to have, experience, or achieve, it means those things are not that important to us. And it is exactly because we don’t think of them as that important, we don’t have enough drive, inspiration, or motivation to go for it.
3. We don’t really know why we want certain things.
There were times when I looked back to my previous New Year’s resolutions, and felt like I needed to pat myself kindly. Have we ever looked at our New Year’s resolution and asked ourselves why we actually want those things?
Why do we want to have a girlfriend? Or why do we want to get married this year? Or why do we want to quit our job? Or why do we want that new phone? Or why do we want to lose weight? Or why do we want to make more money?
When we are asking these questions–and be honest with ourselves while answering them, we will be able to understand what it is that we truly want. Why we want the things we want. Keep asking why until you’re lost for words.
For instance, if we’d like to lose weight, keep asking ourselves about why we actually want to lose weight.
Maybe it’s because we think we would feel more confident being in our skin
Maybe it’s because we want to feel lighter when we’re exercising, thus we can feel more comfortable doing it
Maybe it’s because we’ll be in a dangerous medical condition if we’re not losing weight, thus we are afraid that we’ll get seriously ill
Maybe it’s because we think losing weight will make us look more attractive, hence, we’ll have better possibilities of finding a romantic partner, and in the end we can finally feel loved and enough
The underlying reasons behind why we want the things we want could actually give us more clarity on the things we really desire.
Having a boyfriend, for instance, had made its appearance numerous times (if not every year) in my New Year’s resolutions (not this year, though!).
But why do I want to have a boyfriend?
Because it will make me feel…
OK. Stop right there!
Now I want you to just go back to those 5 things in your New Year’s resolution you’ve prepared a while ago.
After asking yourself why you want each of the things you want, look closely at each one of them, and ask yourself, how would it make me feel if I actually achieved, experienced, or get these things I want?
Probably by owning a house, you would feel proud, powerful, or accomplished.
Probably by losing weight, you would feel confident, attractive, or healthy.
Probably by traveling around the world, you would feel excited, adventurous, or liberated.
Probably by quitting your job, you would feel courageous or spontaneous.
Probably by elevating your career, you would feel energetic or productive.
Probably by getting married you would feel secure or loved.
Just explore the range of feelings you’d feel if you get all the things in your New Year’s resolution. You may have the same feeling keeps popping-up and repeating itself. For instance, having a house, getting married, and elevating your career… all three makes you feel secure. It’s okay.
Now I want you to examine all those feelings and group the similar feelings together. Choose 5 (or less) frequent or recurring feelings that appear on your note. At this stage, you should have a list of 5 or less feelings instead of 5 things on your New Year’s resolution.
A year ago (and up to this day), that’s how my New Year’s resolution looked like.
A list of feelings.
What I do next, is simply asking myself, what can I possibly do (in my everyday life) to give myself all those feelings?
Let’s say I want to feel ‘loved‘. For me, (as we’re all experiencing love in different ways), I could evoke the feeling (that more or less resembles the feeling of) ‘being loved‘ by:
sending a sweet text message to myself (really!),
gifting myself small gifts (a new notebook, a flower, a short weekend-getaway),
treating myself for a nice meal or a nice cup of coffee,
meeting my friends and laugh with them,
standing in front of a mirror, smile at myself and say, I-love-you or You’re-beautiful
hugging my dog…
and many more.
Just some small, simple, (and maybe kind of silly) things that I can do for myself to feel (or at least get close to) the feeling I want to feel.
And after that?
I started doing these things to other people, too. I send sweet text messages to my friends, gift a colleague small things, treat someone for a nice cup of coffee, say yes to my friend’s invitation to meet up, tell a friend that I love & appreciate her… and anything that comes to mind.
How does it change me?
I have to say that now I have more clarity in understanding the reason behind why I want the things that I want. I no longer stressing myself out or wasting my time to chase the shadows, because now I know the underlying motives on why I desire something.
I also started to be more in-the-now. I feel like I don’t have to wait for something big to happen before I could feel or experience what I want to feel. I feel much lighter knowing that I can achieve my New Year’s resolution–now that I design it that way.
I only need to do these little things every now and then and feel the feeling I want to feel!
Furthermore, I am not solely concentrating on myself or being totally absorbed in what I want to feel, but I also start thinking about how other people can feel the good things I want to feel.
In a nutshell, creating my New Year’s resolution this way feels like a better fit for me these days. I don’t know if this resonates with you, too–but feel free to try, and let me know if it (somehow) changes you!
Recently, this was the first thing people said to me–especially if they haven’t seen me for quite a while. Then the follow-up questions soon ensue: Are you on a diet? What have you been doing, are you exercising a lot? Are you a vegetarian now? The fact is, I did lose some weight these past 2 years, about 10 kilograms all in all. Which, when you look at it that way, is not that impressive, really, as this means losing only around 0.5 kilograms per month. That’s quite slow–at least compared to the promises of various dieting programs out there. But, this is not the point. The point is this: I started losing weight when I had given up on losing weight.
For those of you who have been following this blog for quite some time, you know that I used to have issues with my body image. There were times in my life when I hated the way I look; and up to this day, I could still recall that memory of feeling ugly, worthless, unloved, and unwanted.
When I looked into the mirror, I only saw a girl who was overweight, with an oily face and bad acne, straight oily hair, with excess fat here and there and I hated what I saw. I thought I wouldn’t be able to wear a certain dress or carry on a certain hairstyle or following a certain fashion trend because it would only make me look even more ridiculous as if I was trying too hard. There were times when my diary was full of harsh comments I uttered to myself–again and again, repeating the self-pity rants about how ugly I looked, about how ugly I felt.
I tried various diet pills and herbs to no avail. I used various acne creams and capsules and went on painful facials but the pimples kept coming. Until a few days before New Year’s Eve 2013; when I took an impulsive decision to travel with a guy I liked to Penang. I thought it would be fun, to actually celebrate New Year’s Eve with someone, some place new.
We arrived in Penang quite close to midnight. On the ferry, we met a couple who was about to head in the same direction as we were, and so we decided to share a cab. The cab driver brought his wife along with him, so the front seats were occupied. Thus, the four of us squeezed ourselves at the back seat, but the space was quite small, so the guy I liked decided to have me sat on his lap, to give more space for the couple–as they brought some huge bags with them. After a while, he laughed and said, “Wow, you are heavy like a fat whale!”
Maybe he was joking. Maybe he didn’t. But at that very moment, I hated him for what he said; and on the following days, I hated myself because I realized that I had said that kind of things to myself too, quite frequently. Why did I hate him for saying the same thing I had been saying to myself when I had called myself names worse than “a fat whale” and had become my own worst bullies?
That was when I started looking at myself (the bullied self) with a wave of compassion like never before. For the first time, I had this strong urge to stop being mean and harsh to my body and committed to stopping trying to change it. If this was the body I needed to live in for the rest of my life, so be it. I better started to accept it as it was. Because it was too tiring, depressing, and sad, to call yourself names worse than ‘a fat whale’ and play victim all the time. This was the time when I couldn’t care less about my body. I decided to shift my attention somewhere else: my work, my personal projects, my writings, my arts, my love of books, cultures, and languages. I left my body alone. I accepted it but did not befriend it.
At the end of 2013, my father got a lab report presenting his high blood-sugar and cholesterol level. Good food has always been the heart of our family. And I have always believed (still am) that the kitchen should occupy the largest space in a house. But having that lab report changed something: we needed to alter our lifestyle. Yes, our. It didn’t seem so supportive to have me eating all those food we used to love while his options were limited. I looked at the long list of food my father was not allowed to consume (basically everything we usually savored), and the short list of what he should consume. This should be a team effort.
“Let’s do it,” I said to him. “From tomorrow, let’s start by replacing white rice with brown rice.” We did not reduce the amount of food we consume, we just made a healthier choice. More fruits and vegetables in the form of smoothies, soup, green juice, salad, or stir-fry (with olive, canola, or coconut oil). Less red meat and more fish. Less coffee and more lemon water. Less sugar (now almost to the point of no sugar), less salt, and more healthy spices and herbs. Eat dinner before 6:30 pm.
I browsed through dozens of healthy recipes, along with some vegetarian options.
Since I went to Bali quite frequently those days, I started getting myself familiar with the world of raw desserts, and when I got back, I started making those healthy treats for my father’s love of sweet things. The only difference is that we’re using dates instead of sugar, butter, and egg, as well as unsalted nuts and shredded coconut instead of flour.
We have our weekends when we sometimes eat meat (but cooked it in a healthier way) or pig out on that delicious chicken noodle we love, but 5 out of 7 days, we were pretty comfortable with our new habit. My father started swimming again, and I did, too. Plus I did a bit of yoga (home practice by using YouTube videos–thank you Adrienne and Tara Stiles–apart from one or two Kundalini yoga retreats per year) and introduced my father to Lee Holden’s qigong.
Getting in touch with yoga made me feel more comfortable with my own body, especially because my yoga mentors were always highlighting the fact that yoga is not a competitive sport. Just because a friend can do a headstand it doesn’t mean that you need to do it, too. You just need to follow your own pace and listen to your own body, and it will evolve with you. You don’t have to compare yourself with others or parade what you have achieved. I love how yoga has become such a serene and personal practice for me, a time and space I can dedicate to myself every now and then.
I started learning to befriend my body and thanking each part of it every day. When I am in the shower, I talk to various body parts of mine as I cleanse, rinse, and wash them. I say my gratitude and telling them the reason why I am grateful for having them, then sending my wishes and blessing them accordingly.
This can be something like brushing my teeth and saying: “Thank you, my mouth, my teeth, my tongue. Because of you I can speak and eat and taste good food. Because of you I can smile and laugh and sing. May you only speak good words, kind words, may you only speak things that people need to hear, kindly. May you bring out good things and bring in good things–in the form of words, food, drinks, or voices. Be strong and healthy, my teeth, and bless you all.” And then I move on to the next body part: face, hair, arms, legs, stomach, shoulders, back… everything. I walk out of the shower feeling grateful, relaxed and refreshed. How can I NOT be thankful? How can I not look at my body in a different way, with loads of respect and admiration?
I couldn’t remember when it was exactly, but there was this one day when I looked at myself in the mirror and I started liking what I saw. I could really see that I am beautiful–not based on society’s or industry’s standard, but simply beautiful as a human being who survives her ups and downs and keeps marching along, happily. I hadn’t been weighing myself for quite some time–and when I weighed myself that day, I was surprised knowing that I had lost 10 kilograms. I didn’t expect that at all.
On the other hand, my father’s recent lab report has also shown great progress. All the alarming numbers have gone down, returned back to normal, and even turned out really good for the blood-sugar level.
These days, I do not weigh myself. I don’t really care. I have enough comfort, confidence, and positive body image now to say that I just want to live healthier and to love my body more–for whatever it is. I do not want to be measured by numbers on a scale. Do I lose weight? Yes, I do. How much do I weigh now? I don’t know for sure.
Today, I am measuring my body’s performance through the way I feel: do I feel happy and energized or tired and sleepy? Do I wake up in the morning feeling calm and inspired, or greasy and in doubt? Do I move a lot and create many things, thinking and reading, or lazying around a lot and wasting my time scrolling my Facebook newsfeed?
I am also getting better and better at not to let other people’s compliments or critics determine the way I feel; because what’s really important is not what other people think or feel about us–but what we think and feel about ourselves. It’s about looking at the mirror when we’re all alone and pose that defining question: “How can I love You more?”
Because at the end of the day, that’s the only question there is.
What’s the biggest challenge in writing a book together?
Maesy & Teddy: The biggest challenge was to begin.
Although we have blogged together in The Dusty Sneakers for five years, writing a book together required us to work much closer together. We’ve always known that our creative processes are different, but we never clashed until we started working on the book.
Teddy is a true blue artist; he writes when he wants to write. He doesn’t even need to know what the story is, he just needs some jazz and coffee to accompany him as he types away until the story reveals itself.
Maesy is the exact opposite. She could only write when she knows exactly what she wants to say and how she wants to say it. She needs to know the big picture and the small details, so she spends a lot of time plotting and brainstorming in her notebook before she could open her laptop and write.
So when we started, Teddy felt constrained by Maesy’s questions and planning, while Maesy got frustrated over Teddy’s push to write impulsively. In the end, we resolved it by playing to each other’s strengths.
For a week, Teddy was left to write the prologue to set the tone of the book, while Maesy thought, researched, and planned. Then Maesy brewed a huge pot of kokos ananas tea, brought out a stack of colorful post-its, and facilitated a two-hour workshop for Teddy and herself, which resulted in an outline for the whole book.
At the end of the week, we had everything we needed to start writing. Maesy loved how Teddy’s prologue set up the tone for the book, while Teddy was amazed by the fact that he could just glance at a wall with color-coded post-its to see all the plans for every chapter in the book as well as how they are linked with one another.
It was smooth sailing afterward, as each of us was free to work as we liked and find that our different approaches complement each other.
What’s your idea of a “perfect journey”?
Teddy: To me, a “perfect journey” is one that touches you on a personal level. You know, the kind that has elements that you’d remember for a very long time. A trip filled with warm conversations with a close friend, one that reminded you of a significant moment from your past, or sometimes, a small random gesture of kindness, like when we were on a train in Japan, an old lady gave Maesy and I a panda origami she just made.
Mostly though, a journey is perfect when shared with a loved one.
One of my most vivid memories is a bumpy bus ride that Maesy and I shared in South India. We’ve been going our separate ways for more than a year before spending 14 days together in India, so I was missing her quite a lot. Maesy was sitting next to me, her face green from carsickness and she was about to fall asleep. It was just a bus ride, but I remember it vividly.
Maesy: I agree with Teddy, but to add a very practical dimension, a perfect journey is one where I could be completely unplugged. When I am able to roam without any Internet connection, it means that I am not travelling for work and that I travel with Teddy. There is no one I need to keep in touch with, nothing is urgent and no screen is competing with my surroundings for my attention. It feels very liberating, being unplugged.
What’s the life-story of this book?
Maesy & Teddy: Like the story within, the backstory of the book also took place in several different places.
The idea first came to life under the coconut trees in Sekotong, Lombok. Maesy was recovering from a serious case of respiratory problems and Teddy has his first break after a long, intense period at his office.
We spent four days swimming, sleeping, sunbathing, and reflecting on what we felt missing in our lives. As much as we love our jobs, we felt that a creative spark was missing, a spark that only writing and traveling could fulfill.
We started reminiscing about all the life lessons we found through traveling and found that mostly came from the period when we first started the blog when Maesy got a scholarship to study in the Netherlands and we each traveled on our own.
We thought that these stories are best told in a longer narrative format than what we usually do in the blog, so that was the first spark of idea for a book.
It seemed that the universe was listening, for Noura Books contacted us right after we returned from Sekotong. Noura Books found our blog and asked whether we’d like to write a book, so of course, we said yes. What serendipity!
After we came up with an outline, we went for a four-day retreat to Portibi Farms, an organic farm in Cicurug, West Java. We took enough breaks between writing to hike and swim in a waterfall, bake bread, help out on the farm, and play Twister with the children of Portibi’s owners.
That proved to be a winning combo, for we drafted half of the book during the retreat! Perhaps also because we happened to stay in a room called “The Librarian”, another serendipity.
But mostly, the book was brought to life in Jakarta. In the weekday evenings, where Teddy stayed at work after everyone had left to write. In the weekend mornings, where a sleepy Maesy would brew pots and pots of tea – rooibos, Darjeeling, and hoji cha – to accompany her to write.
As much as we love traveling, the ultimate magic is finding the wonder in everyday life in our hometown.
Jakarta is home for us, and it is at home we saw the book came together – a truly magical experience for us.
What do you like the most about each other’s style in writing?
Teddy: The way Maesy writes reflects a happy, sweet, quirky, and intelligent personality – just like she is in real life.
She has a way to reflect on and synthesize her encounters into a meaningful story. When she wrote about the dark side of fairy tales, she could draw the similarities between fairy tales and the tales told about Indonesia as a nation. Behind the beautiful story of Indonesia as a prosperous, united, and friendly nation, there is underlying darkness of inequalities and intolerance.
For me, home is where I was born, Denpasar. I was intrigued when Maesy explores the idea of home so far away from her own – in Taipei, in Amsterdam, and in Den Haag. I found myself thinking about the way she sees things far after I was done reading her chapters.
Maesy: Teddy writes with his heart on his sleeve. You can tell exactly how he feels about something through his writing.
In the chapter he wrote about the unpleasant consequences of tourism in Bali, you could see how upset he was although it was written in a mild tone. You could tell how much he loves his odd friend, Arip Syaman, although the chapters with Arip in them are full of silly incidents and humor.
You could sense his agitation when he questioned the call to preserve tradition during his trip to Baduy. Reading Teddy’s writing feels very intimate because he lets you know how he feels, in the most charming use of Bahasa Indonesia.
What kind of travel stories are your favorites? And why?
Maesy & Teddy: We grew up reading fiction and folktales. We find that characters matter the most in any story, so we love travel stories with strong characters.
We care much less about a place, we keep on reading because we want to know the characters better and get to know a place through their eyes.
Maesy grew up reading fantasy books, and in those books, traveling is how a character becomes aware of their personalities and grows as a person. Lyra Belacqua in Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy is bold and mischievous when the story started, but it was only when she traveled to the North Pole she understands that being brave also entails sacrifice and thinking of the consequences of her actions.
We love travel stories that are also stories of personal journeys, one in which the narrator finds something meaningful about him/herself.
We also enjoy Agustinus Wibowo’s Titik Nol. It is ultimately a story of humanity, seen in people he met throughout his travels, those whom he hold dear, and also within himself. These are the kind of stories that will last in our minds.
You talk about friendship and distance in your book, and how you’re bridging that gap through letters. In your personal life, what are the significance of friendship, distance, and letters to you?
Teddy: I started writing letters to friends before the dawn of e-mails. My best friend in high school went to university in Yogyakarta while I studied in Jakarta and we decided to keep in touch by writing letters.
Those letters to me were not just a way to connect with my friends, they were also a way for me to connect with myself. I only wrote my most significant thoughts and events that left the deepest prints in those letters.
How I write my letters became my habit in writing anything personal – be it blog posts or the book.
Maesy: The book (Kisah Kawan di Ujung Sana) was about the period when Teddy was my friend at the other end of the world, while I studied in the Netherlands and formed new friendships. These friends are now my soul sisters at the other end of the world – in Brussels, Managua, and Vienna.
While we stay in touch through Facebook, Whatsapp, and Instagram, it is only when we took the time to write long letters that I really could connect with them beneath the surface and see our friendship grow.
It is only when I write long letters that I feel the distance shrink. It is when I read their letters I believe that life is long and the world is small, that our paths will cross some other time.(*)
—For more interviews with Indonesian writers, click here.
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Hi. I'm HANNY
I'm a published writer and a writing/creative workshop facilitator based in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. In Indonesian, 'beradadisini' means being here. So, here I am, documenting life—one word at a time.