I went to Gyoza Gyoza for a dinner and catch-up with Viv last Friday.
Full disclosure: I didn’t even have the courteous to wait for her before starting to put the food order once I sat down in their Melbourne Central branch. In my defense, it has been a crazy workday, and I had to skip lunch hence I was famished. I did apologize to her. Halfway eating my grilled miso rice — with both hands, making a mess of myself — no doubt making her feel second-hand embarrassment, I realized this place might just be my favorite chain restaurant in Melbourne (Hoka Hoka Bento in Jakarta and Sakae Sushi in Singapore).
They have delicious tapas-style Japanese food. From edamame, yakitori, takoyaki to miso soup. And their drinks are delicious. So are the desserts.
I have lots of good memories in Gyoza Gyoza. I have been here with Fafa, I think twice with Jik and at least one time by myself. Clearly, it’s my go-to place for comfort food. Their price range from single-digit but doesn’t mean that they are cheap because you tend to eat a lot here.
I am writing from our a cottage called Captain’s Retreat, along the Mornington Peninsula.
It was a last-minute decision to book the Airbnb. I have been needing a break from the life routines and responsibilities for weeks, if not months. So after the local government lifted the 25 km travel ban last weekend, there was no reason not to do a little country-side weekend getaway.
We reached the cottage way past our check-in time and quite buzzed from the ten glasses of wine tasting, and two generous serving of Pinot Gris from a hidden gem on the Peninsula called Kerri Greens.
An old man who lived in the front side cottage greeted us. He then instructed Fafa, who he called Frederico for some reason, to park our car in front of his boat.
Short pleasantries later, we were in.
The cottage was as described on Airbnb, complete with flower wallpapers, nautical themed and a series of thriller novels by Clive Cussler neatly stacked in the bookshelves.
What was not advertised, and to my absolute delight, is the garden at the back. The huge shabby backyard supported an elevated patio, four seating areas, a hammock, a tended rose garden, various trees including a fully blooming orange tree.
The minute I stepped into the backyard, I could feel my weary soul starting to heal.
I spent some time in the hammock, swinging and reading the Belonging. Afterwards I went in to make a cup of tea and then back outside to slow-journal and soak up the evening sun accompanied by the resident cat.
This place, especially the garden — with its weathered down furniture, two sheds displaying various types of equipment, spiderwebs and messy pots laid around, is definitely not Instagram-able.
But sitting here for hours, watching the clouds passing by, hearing the birds chirping, I was reminded of what Sandra told me during my first ever tarot reading. To:
“Find a pocket of nature and ground yourself there. As often as you can, darling.”
This was the advice she gave to me in my first year of moving to Melbourne. Before then, I have lived most of my life in the urban jungle, Jakarta.
As a hard-coded city-folk, being in nature was not normal for me. In the beginning, whenever I tried to connect with nature, I would feel the need to “wrap things up” so I can get back into living my normal. That normal included Starbucks, high-rise buildings, paved balconies and malls. Even writing about it makes me cringe, but that was the truth.
It took me a few more tries – both intentionally and unintentionally – to relearn to connect with nature.
Its’ nurturing, and healing power slowly seeped into me when I stood at the Byron Bay beach, while sunbathing in the Sunshine Coastand when I walked alongside Fort Kochi, India.
Maybe relearn is a wrong way to say it, perhaps it’s more about reminding myself what my soul already knew intrinsically.
Ever since, I have been inviting more nature related energy into my life. From keeping fresh flowers in the apartment, to collecting crystals to tending to my house plants. From growing my own herbs to drinking herbal tea daily.
Ever since, life has been getting better.
I will write more about the place and our time here soon. For now, I going to plant my feet on the bed of grass and let mother earth recharge me.
I was taken back by the question. Not many have asked me this before. I forget when or who asked me the same question before that day when I traveling solo in China.
My mind traveled back to earlier that month when I just started contemplating on changing my writing direction to focus on culture, which eventually birthed Kulture Kween a few years later — to 2012 when I started a travel blog — to 2007 when I started a blog after I read a classmate’s poetry blog — to 2004 when Erwin Tanudjaja introduced me to the concept of a blog. The same Erwin who introduced me to the internet in 1997.
But, it was two years before that, I realized my passion for writing.
On the day I forgot to bring my homework. I called Amma from a rusty (even for 1995) coin-operated payphone from my school begging her to bring my homework.
It was not compulsory. It was an extracurricular activity. My grade wouldn’t be marked. But for some reason, I put an effort to write an essay with a not-appropriate-for-middle-school topic. I spent the whole long weekend in August to write and rewrite it in longhand (it was 1995). Finally, I put my rebellious twist on it. I know it would be marked by the school principal and didn’t care if he was going to penalize me for it. I just didn’t want it to be a cookie-cutter school essay with a sprinkle of mundaneness.
Thankfully Amma refrained from executing a teachable moment that day. She took an auto-rickshaw and dropped the paper to me at school. Just in time for me to slip it to the stack of papers waiting in the Principal’s office.
My essay won. No gift. The acknowledgment was done and dusted in less than two minutes. But it didn’t matter. I felt such joy at the moment, more than scoring a solid 100 on an exam paper.
That moment topped my childhood happiness chart.
That was the moment that gave the answer to what inspires my passion question asked by the stranger on the train. The foundation for me slogging hours and hours on writing/blogging/journaling.
Thank you for not penalising me on that day Mr. School Principal. I hope my hoarder parents still keep the winning essay somewhere in the house.
I looked at the caller ID on the phone. Amma. “What do you want me to cook for you?”
I smiled even though I knew she wouldn’t be able to see it from across the ocean. She had asked the same question a hundred times before. To which I gave the same answer, my favorite has always been the same, a famous local dish from the region she grew up in: “prawn curry“. Then I added, “but, let’s cook it together this time“. I anticipated a “Why?” but it never came. Good. The answer to that particular why weighs heavily on my world and I rather put it in writing here than explain it to her.
It all started when a friend, who lost her mother, shared her regrets. One of them was her struggle to “cook like mom” for her grieving family. How, even though she could remember some of the ingredients, some of the recipes and some of the methods, none of them was enough. Enough to bring the same taste to the same plates, served at the same dining table to the same people.
Her words woke up my own demon who whispered into my ear as I lay in the bed, asking me “what would my regrets be?”
The answer? Infinite.
One of them, the same as my friend, would be the fleeting taste of Amma’s cooking. Even though she had given enough advice to last me seven reincarnated lives, Amma had never taught me to cook, because I was never interested. That night, unable to sleep, I decided that it needed to change when I flew home next.
The day I reached home, I was greeted by the smell of exotic spices filling the air and a warm bowl of prawn curry on the table. I half-heartedly complained that I wanted to learn to cook it, but was secretly glad I didn’t have to right after the long flight.
The next day I used a different approach in the effort to capture the fleeting taste: I made her write the complete recipe with foolproof detail.
“Why don’t I dictate it for you so you can write it in English?” she complained. “No, Bahasa Indonesia is fine, but I want you to write it” I replied. She complied and passed me the paper with “make sure you cook it otherwise you just wasted my time!“
Putting her note in the recipe box, I promised her I would. In fact, I told her, I plan to fill the box with other recipes from her, my friends, and even my own. It will be a sort of artifact to summon love and support from women in my life, including myself. She laughed and air-quoted “cooking rice” is not a recipe.
Ha! She doesn’t know that I can boil pasta too!
The day I flew back to Melbourne she hugged me tightly, enveloping me with the warmth of her love. How I wish I could put that motherly love into the recipe box and keep it with me forever.
That’s when I realized it wouldn’t be her cooking that I would truly miss, but the love she put into cooking the food for me. That, even though I have the original blueprint inside my recipe box, it will still be a fleeting taste.
Last year, on the plane back to Jakarta, I read an interview with a Malaysia based painter who said that he has been painting every day since he was much younger, before going back to doing whatever it was he was supposed to do for the day, including spending time with his friends and watching a sports game.
He paints every day — when he was falling in love, getting married, and having a baby.
He essentially lives an ordinary life, with an extraordinary commitment to painting; his passion, hobby or call it what you wish.
I was so inspired by this article.
I want to have the same dedication level as him. I too want to incorporate a dash of writing into my daily schedule, which will make this ordinary life uniquely mine and utterly satisfying.
Al, the photography teacher, once told me to treat my photography as a writing project. To find or even create a story worth writing, behind each picture I take. I think that’s when I started to find the joy in photography because it speaks in a language I understand: writing.
There are many life instances where things change from bad to acceptable, from a chore to a reflection, from mundane to interesting, from moments to memories when I have my writer’s brain on.
In short, I realized that writing makes my life better; so, on this new moon, I want to release my wish for writing.
I wish to keep writing every day. I wish to keep finding joy in it. And I wish to keep finding joy in other things by writing about it.
I wish writing to be a legacy of mine.
Do you have a passion or hobby in life that makes you want to spend the rest of your life doing? Be it pottery or poetry, If you don’t have one yet, try to find it. Experiment on it, discard the ones you no longer love, adopt the ones you think you might, and more importantly stick with the one that makes you happy. Show up.
I think I experienced hell recently by sitting on a window seat in a plane for 12 hours without standing nor sleeping on my way back from Amsterdam to Melbourne. The only good thing about the flight was the Indonesian food (written in Bahasa Indonesia) on the in-flight menu: ikan bakar madu – honey glazed bbq fish.
Thankfully I had a stopover in Singapore.
I stretched my legs, had a quick meal (it was breakfast or lunch or dinner depends on which time I referred to) with my cousin, who was going home to Jakarta. I spent the rest of my hour at the airport in the bookstore where I bought a book about the city I once called home before boarding another plane that would take me to Melbourne.
This time, I requested an aisle seat, which I usually dislike because of all the disruptions, but I thought it would be better for me if I still felt like stretching. Weirdly, I slept off the minute the plan went up in the sky and only got woken up the next day when they served the in-flight meal (which I too wasn’t sure whether it was breakfast, lunch or dinner).
A smooth immigration process and $83 taxi ride later, I was finally home.
I am moving to Australia. I am taking the red-eye to Melbourne tonight. My cousins kidnapped me early this morning for one last coffee date, at least for sometime. We went to a hipster coffeeshop in South Jakarta. We talked, we cried and we face-timed with Jik. They got me a watch, how thoughtful.