Friday, March 27, 2009

Delapan ribu perak

It has been a long time that we wanted to go to Malang on our family holiday. I have always been impressed with this small, beautiful town. I came there in and out, always on work and never really had time to explore. So when we found a chance to have break from work, we decided to take off to Malang.

On our first night, after having dinner at a lovely restaurant called ‘Inggil’ (what a lovely place too!), we decided to play at the park at 'alun-alun' (in some places in Europe they would be like piazzas). It was a peaceful night, the air was cool, there was little traffic, and there were not too many people in the park. It was not a big park, it was not even a very clean one when we came, but nevertheless, the air and the trees in the park, and the beautiful mosque facing it was really refreshing to enjoy.

So the three of us walked around, watched people, looked at the sky and stars above, till suddenly Tara stopped and looked at something.

She stared at a man selling a very simple toy. It consisted of a head that looked like a catfish, and a body that was made of pleated coloured paper. This man pulled the toy here and there, that it moved much like a very fast snake.

Cucu, the cute catfish (? - still not sure what it actually is)

I saw this toy somewhere in Jakarta, but always when alone and not with Tara and it never occurred to me that Tara would like it. And there, in that park, Tara got so amused with it that she asked if she could have one. So my husband bought it for her, for Rp 3000.

And Tara pulled it with delight, she went up and down the stairs in the park, merrily watching her ‘Cucu’ going with her (like any kids, she has the habit of naming her animal toys).

Then my husband’s attention was taken by another toy seller, who sold a catapult like device, with somekind of a lighted arrows that is catapulted to the sky, and that arrow would look like a star coming down the sky. He bought one, for Rp 5000, and he played with it. Tara forgot about her ‘Cucu’ for a while and got busy chasing the arrow when it flew down.

The lighted arrow (Tara actually calls it a 'rabbit helicopter')

I watched them from afar, and felt really warm though the night’s cold wind was beginning to blow. I really thanked whoever created those ingenuous toys, and the sellers who persisted selling them. They encapsulate every meaning of happiness to me: nothing too complicated, there on the moment, gives simple burst of good feeling, an expression of loving attention, and a simple kind of connection yet one that I am sure will last.

Many times we forget that we can always make connections with kids through simple devices, and, cheap ones. We are so busy sometimes buying the expensive toys for them, or ensuring that they have expensive toys so they do not feel left out. Yet, many times, how often do they need those toys, really. Even if they feel left out because of not having one like their friend’s, I do not believe that it will scar them for life, as long as we give them enough room to explore other things in life. And looking at Tara playing with her ‘Cucu’, I actually can teach a lot to her: the meaning of simplicity, the ability to ‘rough it up’ (because I am sure selling those toys every night cannot be a very easy life), creativity, and the idea that happiness is how we make it, not what we buy.

In this world of abundance, we sometimes forget those values ourselves. As adults, we think, that expensive things can make us feel good. Yes to some extent that is true. But, will that happiness last?. I am not sure. In a book called ‘Happiness for Dummies’ written by W. Doyle Gentry, PhD, it states that abundance created 3 reasons for hindering people from feeling happier:

1. The hedonic treadmill effect. Our achievement actually creates a level of neutrality after some time – the point at which you feel neither positive nor negative about the world around you. This is why it always takes something more to make us happy. For example, if a kid one day is happy with Rp 5000 pocket money, after some time he will feel that it is not enough anymore though in reality he may still be able to buy things that he used to buy.

2. Relative deprivation. We constantly compare ourselves to another. For example, a kid who already has PS1 will not be happy if his friend has PS2…and the race can continue. I am not against social comparison. Someone said to me comparison with others is important so we better ourselves – but then, how far and how much should we compare, is what I am really asking sometimes when I look at how people around me behave. And kids, included.

3. Escalating needs. Simply put: the more you get, the more you want. Ever experienced how often you must tell your daughter, “You already have so many dolls, must you get another one?!”.

I never really spend heaps on toys for Tara, but these days, when she already has more variety of friends she sometimes of course falls into one of those traps. Just recently she asked if she could have one of those PS2 – not that she ever had PS1!. She just thought it looked ‘more interesting’ than her old toys. I persisted in not buying her one – and now, I think I can use those cheap toys to tell her that, look, if you can be happy with these ones and even learn from it, who needs PS2. Oh well…one must try, you know. I do not want Tara to fall into all the three traps at such a young age. I am hoping that I am doing the right thing. Because many times I do wonder if the life of abundance has actually made her falling into those traps almost automatically.

Those ingenous toys represent simplicity in life – both in real form and in value. And looking at how happy my husband and Tara played together with those, it reminds me that going back to basics actually makes us more and more appreciative of life, in its simplest form. That moment of three, that moment of togetherness, had its escalation thanks to those cheap toys, in a park where one does not need to pay to get in and play. These are the things that I believe us, as her parents, owe her to build. So she remembers, that though there is life of abundance, but at the end of the day, it should not be the abundance of things and purchase power that should matter, but the abundance of love, ability to see life differently, and most of all, abundance of eagerness to search for simple signs of happiness.


Friday, March 20, 2009

4S -- Sepela Sepele, Semalam dan Sepagi Tadi..

Semalam saya begadang, menyelesaikan beberapa hutang deadline kecil dan membalas email-email untuk pagi ini. Untungnya tidak sendirian. Mengintip FB, sekali-sekali tentu. Tapi kali ini, lebih dari itu. Ditemani oleh lima keping CD yang saya putar kencang-kencang di kamar hotel, saya merasa sedang mengikuti program tamasya bebunyian. Berikut ini adalah rute tamasya itu semalam:

Gulag Orkestar (Beirut, 2007)
Membayangkan band ampuh seperti ini dipimpin oleh seorang anak muda kelahiran tahun 1986, namanya Zac, bikin saya iri habis. How come anak semuda ini, bisa menghasilkan album segila itu..Lalu, apa yang menghubungkan santa-Fe, Amerika, dengan spontanitas dan kekasaran musik Jipsi Eropa Timur? Ya Zachary Candon itulah! Jenius muda yang hobinya bagpacking dan males sekolah..

Watershed (Opeth, 2008)
Band death metal Skandinavia yang sekali-sekali kedengaran seperti Zepplin atau Yes. Progressive, brutal. Tapi lembut dan merenung di satu dua track. Itulah akibatnya kalau hati blues, tapi jemarinya metal. Asik, asik, asik!

Fleet Foxes (Fleet Foxes, 2008)
Album of the year, Band of the year, whatever of the year. Teman saya (FB Search: Philips Vermonte) memuji-muji habis band ini. Mendengarkannya saya membayangkan jaman prasejarah, tepatnya awal tahun 70-an, kebon, sawah, dan waktu orang-orang di kampung saya fasih berbahasa Inggris dan menggemari The Beach Boys.

White Lies (White Lies, 2009)
The sound of 2009, demikian kata BBC. Tapi buat saya kedengaran seperti A-Ha, Alphaville, tapi dengan kemurungan ala Interpol. Suara tahun 80-an yang dibangkitkan kembali dalam remang-remang.. “ We were a dozen to the project, with a galaxy of questionsAnd all we heard was lies about the truth, no choice but be obedient..”

Kind of Blue (Miles Davis, 1959)
Miles Davies adalah abadi. Kind Of Blue dibuat tahun 1959. Waktu itu Malaysia lagi belajar duduk, dan Singapore belum lahir. Meski uzur, Kind Of Blue terasa segar, seperti kopi giling pekat yang baru saja diantar ke kamar. Rintihan trompet Miles, terdengar seperti jeritan yang sepi, rindu, sembunyi, atau ingin lari. Itu bunyi hati saya? Atau teman-teman?


Tidur jam 2 dini hari, lalu terbangun empat jam kemudian. Saya menuntaskan catatan ini, dan tadinya meniatkan untuk jogging menyusuri sungai di sekitar hotel kami. Membayangkan Joseph Conrad, Sommerset Maugham, dan Graham Greene melakukan hal yang sama puluhan tahun yang lalu. Ya, mereka menginap di tempat yang sama!

Dua hari belakangan ini kami ngobrol hal-hal yang penting-penting-nggak penting (tergantung di sisi mana Anda berdiri), di bawah kamar dan ruang kerja yang pernah mereka gunakan.Di luar langit sedikit mendung.

Teringat kata-kata Graham Greene:“The world is not black and white, more like black and grey..” Saya sendiri tak peduli dengan pendapatnya. Saya berteriak: “Yeyyyyyyyyyyyyy!!!!”

Monday, March 16, 2009

The stranger in the corner

Sometimes I think I have multiple personalities. I enjoy being around people - as well regularly needing time to be alone. I can be in a crowd of friends, but my mind and heart are somewhere else seeking for a place where I am alone and just enjoying the peace. But that does not mean that I am bored, I just let my mind wander off, many times. Many friends think it is easy for me to make friends while in actual fact I find it annoying to 'network' and mingle like in those standing parties. I always wonder how some people can just walk up to someone he or she does not know, say something and just have a conversation. I can never do that. And usually in situation like that I will work hard to find any excuse to get myself out of it.

Yesterday - I was trapped. My daughter's friend had her birthday party at one of McDonald's outlet, in Kemang. In the past, we got away with not coming to a few invitations because we had something else to attend. This time, I could not avoid it. And now that Tara knows a lot more, I could not get away from her request to meet up with her friends.

Actually there are two reasons why I always avoid these parties. One, because I don't support the idea of having kids' (= up to 5 years old) birthday parties in fast food outlets cause they will have a lifetime chance to poison themselves later, so why should we do it to them at that early age. Plus I always prefer a more homey, warm, feel to parties – especially birthdays. Two, because I know I will be tortured having to mingle with the moms who I never met. In Tara's 2 years of schooling, I never even once sat down with these moms. Of course because I work so I don't take Tara to school regularly. But even when I was on leave and took her to school - I preferred to wait for her in a coffee shop, doing something than mingling with others.

Not that I do not find it useful to make friends – but I just cannot start a conversation easily. And rather than having those awkward moments of silence, I would rather do something.

So yesterday, I was trapped in that necessity to mingle with ‘strangers’. That awkward silent moments after the first introduction, after the usual change of words about where we live, how old is our child, and all that stuff, really killed me. So finally I retreated and stayed away from those moms – who already knew one another because they apparently regularly take their kids to school. And finally I found myself a spot where I could sit and watch people as well as watch Tara having fun with her friends.

And that was when I wondered – have I actually missed anything by not being in that crowd?. A lot of my friends who are a part of the parent and teacher association, have shared some stories with me. Right now, I am of the belief that I have not missed anything. But, maybe my belief will change somewhere down the line...let’s see. Comes the time Tara gets into the kindergarten, I am sure I will have to experience that. And to be a part of the group and not being the ‘stranger in the corner’ on birthday parties.

Oh well....I still have 3 months to enjoy my space. And till then I don’t mind being that stranger.


Saturday, March 14, 2009

Ms. Potter and and her lively imagination

The beauty of having kids is to continuously have to learn things along your life. Sometimes as big as having to re-learn math (I do consider this big, which I do not have to do now – and I think I’ll let my genius husband to do so later!), to as little as having to learn to mix milk powder and water. Somewhere in the middle – it is also learning to find good books that you want your kids to, hopefully, treasure for the whole of their lives. And for us, the latter is what we both enjoy so much.

Since we do not have a ‘working’ TV at home (there is a broken one which has been staying broken for almost 4 years now), and actually none of us wish Tara to be addicted to that box of hypnosis, the task of finding things to read to our daughter becomes even more important to us. From as simple as the cloth and plastic books that I bought when she was a baby, to finding books that have not only good story but also good pictures that can captivate her attention.

And it is pretty normal that as a little kid, she is always captivated by animal stories. And because of that, one day, my husband bought her one of Beatrix Potter’s stories – The Tale of Peter Rabbit.

I have often heard of Beatrix Potter, and especially about Peter Rabbit. But I never really read any of these stories, nor have I encountered them when I was a child. So I got very interested with this book that my husband bought. And, it was love at first read.

I really love the imagination that Potter had – and only later that I found out that Peter and Benjamin were Potter’s rabbits that she kept as pets when she was a child, among other pets that she had which ranged from frogs, newts, ferrets and even a pet bat. Potter would watch these animals for hours on end, sketching them. Only then I could understand how Potter could really make her sketches almost alive to its finer details – her keen eyes really brought her imagination alive.

So captivated that I was with Peter Rabbit and the work of Beatrix Potter, that I watched the movie where Renee Zellweger played as Ms. Potter. And I was rather amazed with her life story. At that time, it must have been difficult to stand tall as an unmarried woman (her fiance passed away not long after their engagement), while she was actually born in a fortunate family with parents who were only too keen that she married a ‘proper gentleman’. Not only that, she was a writer – which what I caught in the movie, was not common for a woman to live off writing in that period especially not with the kind of imagination that she had, but she did it nonetheless, fighting against society’s beliefs. And I admire her more – especially after also knowing, thanks to Wikipedia, that she was actually regarded as an expert mycologist, who did not get the proper appreciation as a scientist only because she was a woman.

I am not going to linger on the injustice given to her just because she was born a woman, but I guess knowing that, has just made me wanted to grow closer to her books. And they are really great to read – they sort of reminded me how as a child I used to talk to the dogs we had, and imagined that they could actually talk to me (because I spent most of my time alone when at home, I spent most of that time being with our dogs. My older sister and I were two very different people that we could never stand 1 hour together when we were little kids).

Thanks to the modern world where I think most children books have been turned into cartoons – I was ever so glad to have found a collection of DVDs based on Potter’s work. From Peter Rabbit and his sisters and Benjamin the rascal cousin, Mrs. Tittle Mouse who loves her house to be clean at all times, Tom the kitten and his two sisters who always make mischief out of their mom’s eyes, and other characters that I just love watching with my daugther. And thanks to these DVDs as well, my daughter has come to know different ‘looks’ of cartoons because they use original sketches that Potter had in her books.

To some extent, Beatrix Potter’s animal stories have a rather similar aura to what Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi has to me: a very endearing, warm hearted, and to some extent down to heart imagination. Something that makes it easy for me to relate with them. These books help me to teach my daughter the good values in life without having to sound pedantic and boring. They actually let my daughter to learn decoding the important signs of ‘must vs must not dos’, without me having to tell her about them, nor the stories had those signs ‘translated’ point blank to her. And to me that is a wonderful way of learning – because then I believe she will remember them much longer, than if these signs were decoded for her.

So, I am glad that I can add the wonderful world of Peter Rabbit and friends among the Strawberry Shortcake’s and the Pooh’s movies and books that my daughter loves. At the very least, they are a different thing that her eyes can feast on. And if the eyes love what they see, then I am confident, that it will go down to her heart. Hopefully, it will be another treasure that she will keep, for life.


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A simple night out in the park (it is easy to entertain kids!)

I once lived in Melbourne for 2 years to study. During that time, I pretty much enjoyed the city which is known as ‘The Garden City’ thanks to so many parks around it. In any season but especially in spring and summer, I always found myself spending some time in any parks at any corner of the city. And almost every time I wish that Jakarta had such lovely parks, especially when I looked at families with their children playing to their hearts content in the park – and not in the malls.

When my baby was born, my husband and I have somewhat sworn to ourselves that we would not take her to the malls until she was at least 3. We both believed that it would not do any good for our baby to experience the crowd, dust, and noise of the malls. So we began to search for the ‘best’ park to take Tara around when she was around 3 months old.

The first park that we went to for a stroll with her was the Botanical Garden, in Bogor. We used to spend hours in this park, enjoying the cool morning breeze, the sounds of the ducks, and the morning mist amidst the trees. We used to hit the road at around 6.30, and went home 3 hours after that. But of course we could only do this during the weekends. And along with the hectic schedule that my husband had on weekdays – he got more and more tired to push himself up that early on a Saturday or Sunday morning, so we got on to other parks.

When Tara was 6 months old, we got hooked with Monas – the park around the National Monument in the central of Jakarta. At that time, the horse carriages were still allowed in the monument complex. And that was how Tara first got fascinated with horses. At times, we could take her as many as 4 rounds on the carriage, because she just refused to get off it. Sometimes we would bring a ball, so we played with her on the grass. Or we just sat on the grass and watched people. It was so much fun. And this habit went on till one day, the city council decided to ban the horse carriages from Monas (a stupid decision, if you ask me, very stupid). We just could not bear to see Tara’s sad eyes when we took her there after the regulation was operated and found that the carriages were gone, so we stopped going there.

Luckily, there are two parks that Tara also loves so much: Suropati and Menteng Park, both located in Menteng area. So everytime we want to go to a park, we will go to either one of those. Tara used to spend hours chasing the birds in Suropati, while she loves the sandy part of Menteng Park, and she also loves running from one fountain to the other in this park.

Of course Tara now knows malls – who does not if you live in Jakarta, the City of Mall (seriously, I think we have too many, lack of character, malls!. Though apparently there was a survey stating that there is still a lack of mall per square meter if calculated by the number of people living in Jakarta. I think it’s outrageous!). Yet thanks to the habit that we have built since she was a baby, she still appreciates simple trips to the parks. Just like what we had tonight.

I asked her to come and pick me up, because suddenly I just wanted to spend time with her and had a bit of ‘ladies night out’ time. So she came to the office, we went off and in the car I asked her, “Let’s go to Menteng Park, shall we?”. And I was so happy to see her eyes lighted up and she excitedly said, “Yes, yes, yes!”.

We went there, and we did the things that she always does everytime we go there: with no shoes on, she walked and jumped and played on the sandy part of the park where there are kids facilities. Then still barefooted she asked me if we could walk around the park searching for the fountains. And she ran from one fountain to another. At the fountain on the corner of the park – the one facing an intersection, she sat on the stairs facing the road. I sat with her, hugged her and we just watched the cars went by, laughed at silly little jokes that we made to one another, and….simply had a good time (though I also realised how much pollution we both have inhaled by sitting by the road, but what the heck!).

We spent about one hour in the park, roaming around, till she said she wanted to go home. So we went home – and she looked so happy. In the car she hugged me and said, “I love you Mom”. Wow…that really made me flew to Cloud 9!. And to think that she did that only after doing something very, very, simple – just strolled and had silly little time with one another in a simple park.

I always believe that children are easy to please. It all depends on how we build certain simple habit that makes them see that we are there for them and we enjoy that simplicity together. I hope my Tara sees it that way. Seeing her tonight, I know she does. Also, though Jakarta does not have parks as beautiful as Melbourne’s, but I think I can live with it. As long as I can always make Tara sees the other side of life – that there is such a thing called ‘simple and cheap entertainment’ even in a city as pretentious as Jakarta!.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Rarity is luxury

For my everyday life, just for fun, I made categories of what my days are like. Let me just describe to you how I categorise them. There are three categories: cat and dog chase days, mind-numbing days, and mind-trigger days.

By name, the first is really about catching up with (too many) deadlines. And this is also the kind of days when I usually forget my appointments because I have made them without remembering what I promised to another person before that, thanks to too many things to catch up with. And that kind of day often happens to me (and that thing called Calendar with a reminder in Outlook sometimes cannot even save my day!). These are the days that give me the adrenaline, the days that remind me why I love what I do (of course that ‘loving’ comes when these days are over, cause when I am still in them, I usually curse a lot).

The mind-numbing days are usually about doing the usual, often boring, administrative work with less action. These are the days when I often have to make important, but usually rather mundane, decisions. These are the days when I just need to get the job done – not much feeling, adrenaline is not really needed, I only need enough energy (and motivation) to finish the task. I call it ‘mind-numbing’ because in days like these, usually I operate on auto-pilot. Too much thinking can actually ruin the necessity to finish the task (because then I will dwell too much on issues which, only disturbs the flow of work). And without saying, I don’t really enjoy these kind of days.

Then the last category – the mind-trigger days are those ones when I only have one or two deadlines, not difficult ones, no adrenaline rush. And I still have time to have a leisure lunch, or read an article or two (and sometimes even go to a mall and check out some sale – mind trigger, that!, cause that keeps me in check with my disbelief in big brands). But amongst the three, of course, this last type of days is the one happening the least. So when I have them, I enjoy, squeeze, maximise, to its fullest bits and pieces.

Yesterday, was one of those rare days that I could be ‘mind-triggered’. I woke up feeling really good – my daughter had a bit of fever at night but in the morning that was all gone and she looked as sweet as she used to be. We played for almost two hours before I was off to my first meeting in the morning. I had a good meeting – with good business prospect, so that made my first half of the day.

I came back to office – had a nice, leisurely, fruitful lunch with a colleague. A person who often reminds me, without him knowing, that I should actually not always take things easily by this attitude of ‘let life reveal itself in time then I will act’. Talking to him about what life may be, actually opened my mind of what I should and should not do. Such revelations sometimes that you can get from a simple conversation!.

After that I spent the last half of the day preparing a proposal, and reading things to prepare a report. And I really did enjoy it. I even had time to make a note on Facebook – so, overall, yesterday was a really good day.

And, those of you living in Jakarta would know how awful the traffic has become last night thanks to the rain. If it was my ‘cat and dog chase’ day, or my ‘mind-numbing’ day, I would be very, very, very annoyed. Because usually in those days I want to go home early, but I could not, because of what I have to finish plus what I have to endure on the street. Last night, I did want to go home early but I could not because traffic was so awful. But I was not annoyed at all – because I did not want to ruin such a nice day with my annoyance.

I spent the time waiting for traffic to lessen by reading my pile of things while listening to some music – a combo of Jason Mraz and Billy Joel (yeah some people would say that shows my age – but what the heck, I am proud of how old I am!). I had fun reading what I had to read, I learned from it and I knew it would make me able to create a good report.

But then of course one has to go home – no matter how comfortable your office is, home is where your heart is. So, I packed my things, and went on the street.

This was also one of the rare nights that I did not have anyone picking me up. I asked my driver not to pick me up because traffic would kill him and I would rather know him spending his time with his kids than fighting the awful traffic.

I crossed the road in front of our office, hoping that the direction going to my home would give a better chance to find a transportation. And looking at the traffic – I was just ready for about anything. Taxis were the best, but then, even two wheelers looked great too. Anything to get me home.

And of course taxis were impossible to get. So, I hailed an ojek (a motor taxi it would be called in Bangkok), and took off.

Now, I think that was when God really wanted to have fun with me. I am a person who is afraid of getting on motorcycles. But traffic in Jakarta sometimes does not leave me much choice to go from one point to another. So when our office moved to Kuningan area, I got used to get on ojek to get me to some places – sometimes even to client meetings.

But tonight – it was, a lot more, fun. This ojek that I got onto, decided to race his way through the special space for busway (the one liner road for buses to go to – the creation of our good ol’ last Governor, who I think should have had a brain surgery of some sort to fix whatever was in his mind). Now, that was ‘fun’ because: one - I am still scared of being on motorcycles even now that I am more used to get on ojek, and two – because I have seen what these one liner roads look like in bright day light. At some places they are not actually that smooth. So, my heart was racing – what if there was a bump and something happened.

Strangely, I managed to smile. I actually enjoyed the fresh wind on my face. I enjoyed the thrill that it gave me. And somewhere in my heart, I enjoyed that opportunity to be alive and do what I would not think of doing if I were not pushed to a situation where I did not have much choice.

I got home safely, thank God for that. I went in, saw my sweet daughter was still up, had my shower, played with her, read her bed-time stories till she dozed off.

When I wrote this, it was almost midnight, both my daughter and husband were already asleep (now that is, rare too! – because usually I am the sleepy head among the three of us! When the clock hits 10 at night, I am usually already at another planet). Then it hit me, that it had really been one of those rare days: one of my rarely happening ‘mind-trigger’ day, filled with some revelations of what might be, and a realisation that, hey, I could actually enjoy a racing motorcycle on a road that I could hardly see if it was smooth or not!. And all those – are really luxuries of life, because they do not come to me everyday, I could not find those little things about myself if not because of these rarities.

So, I hope I will have other days like this. The rare ones to treasure a lot longer. And the ones which remind me that a day at its very basic, nothing extravagant, a day where we are stripped from the usual luxury that is around us, can actually be, the best day of one’s life. A REAL luxury.


Di ujung pencarian

Dulu, saya juga pernah minta cuti 2 bulan. Saya capek ternyata menghadapi semua tanggung jawab dan kerusuhan memimpin perusahaan. Padaha...

Popular Posts