Where I Find Peace and Tranquility


Over the course of time I have found a few places in the world where I can find my peace of mind and let go of whatever is bothering me. I’m sure everybody has some places like that in their heart. Here are some photos that illustrate my happy places; they are much more beautiful in real life though! Seriously.

bear

Taking a stroll in Köllnischer Park, visiting the bears in the Bärenzwinger (Berlin, Germany)

brooklyn

Sitting on a bench on the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, looking at Manhattan skyline (NYC, USA)

nyc

Visiting the Rockefeller Center, looking down at Manhattan

(NYC, USA)

bahirdar

Sitting by the shore of Lake Tana, enjoying the view and the wind (Bahir Dar, Ethiopia)

waiheke

Wandering aimlessly on Waiheke Island (Auckland, New Zealand)

tidung

Watching sunrise and sunset on Tidung Islands (Jakarta, Indonesia)

bondi

Taking the Bondi Beach coastal walk (Sydney, Australia)

kama

Watching sunset/sunrise on the beach in Kamakura (Kamakura, Japan)

Where do you find peace and tranquility?

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Oh J


Walking, I discovered, with no sidewalks, doesn’t mean walking at all. It’s going to be a bad romance.

This was my first impression of Jakarta. Yet, despite the fact that it’s definitely not a very a walkable city I decided to go to work by foot. You could say it’s in my blood. Blame it on my wanderlust.

45 minutes. That’s the time I needed to walk from my place to the UNESCO Office. I knew from the very beginning that the dust, the traffic and the hot weather would destroy my enthusiasm. They truly did and I had to make a decision:

Swim or sink. Swim or sink. Swim or sink.

By the time I thought about giving up I realized that I would miss the routine of my walk. It was a simple route but its human side tied me to the streets. It had to be explored. So explore it I did. I kept swimming. I kept looking left and right. I kept eating dust.*

The first thing I did when I left my place every morning was to greet my part-time running/walking Korean companion. After exchanging some pleasantries in the five minutes in which we shared the same path, I was ready to join the chaos. The quietness of my neighborhood was then replaced by the sound of cars, mopeds and other vehicles. It was like stepping into a completely different world. Street vendors everywhere. Some staying in their permanent corners. Others moving their carts to different locations. Each of them selling their own speciality. By the time I reached Blok M, a well-known shopping centre, I would stop there for a few minutes to observe the area’s liveliness, reliving a memory. Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish between then and now. Amid the mess and the hectic I saw gentle and smiling faces despite the harshness of life, saw solidity in all the movements around me. There it was. There it was. So painfully obvious. So familiar.

Like a lifeline in the chaos.

Jalan Senopati greeted me with more dust, more vehicles and more humidity. The heat was unbearable. There was a time I envied my colleagues for their easy handling of the heat. Whenever we met for lunch or just hang out together, everybody was smiling and chit chatting and I was smiling and chit chatting (or trying to do so) and sweating all the time. By the time I got used to the heat and ultimately stopped sweating I had to leave the country. Anyway, back to Jalan Senopati. It was a challenge every morning to find the right second to cross this street. It took me a few minutes to complete this task while smiling at the regular jockeys. They earned their money from the daily gridlock of Jakarta’s traffic. In order to reduce the number of cars on the city’s streets, the government designated several main roads as “Three in One zones.” During rush hours, people can’t drive to these areas unless there are at least three persons in their car. That’s the reason why people would line up near the zones – raising their index finger – to rent themselves to drivers. One of the regulars on this street was a young mother who carried her baby in a seladang batik. It slept soundly despite all the noise. We never exchanged more than a smile and a “selamat pagi.” It made me feel trapped in my language boundaries.

Almost there. After reaching the other side, I would stop at my favorite street vendor to buy some sweets which served as breakfast. Last stop. I kept walking on the right side, shifting my eyes to the tall and impressive mosque across the street. What a pleasant sight. Covered in white, it radiated sublimity and grandness. On every Friday noon this street would be packed with cars and mopeds and you would see men in their batik shirts, lining up to pray in the mosque. I turned right and went straight into the office. Ultimate destination.

“You are crazy,” one of my colleagues once told me after finding out about my walk.
” It’s okay. Think about the positive outcome.” I said. ” In a few years I might come back and visit you guys and you might not remember who I am.”
” Yeah, that might be true. We have so many interns. What’s positive about it?” She asked.
” Well, you know what I’m gonna say when you don’t remember me anymore? I’m gonna ask: Hey guys, remember me? Walking? Chicken**? I think you would say -yeah, I remember now, you are that crazy girl!”                                                                                  “Yeah, that sounds pretty convincing to me, “she said, laughing at my reasoning.

The heat was still there when I left the office to go home. Same route, different scenery. The streets became, if that’s possible, more hectic and crowded. The same chaos but I was always struck by its immediacy and the hustle and bustle around me. The traffic noise became louder and shriller, mixed with the call to prayer from the muezzin. Together they breathed a strange syncopation; in a way I found it familiar and comforting. It managed to enfold the madness that is Jakarta. It showed me one of those rare and unpredictable moments of connectivity between me and the city. It calmed me.

*Luckily for me, after my return to Europe I had been prodded, poked, scanned and X-rayed to the doctors’ satisfaction and it turned out that everything was fine.

** Another thing that my colleagues teased me about was my fascination for chicken. In fact, I always ordered ayam goreng for lunch simply because it was the only thing that I could eat.

How Everything Began…


Hi,

I guess the beginning of this blog can be traced back to September, October/November 2010. At that time I just finished my studies and made preparations for my stay in Jakarta. Normally I yearn for the raw and unrefined feeling of unpredictable adventures but this time the situation was not normal. My mind was occupied with other things. I just got out of a very weird and complicated “non-relationship relationship-nrr.” This is a very bad and vague description of what happened coming from someone who loves details but I really don’t know how else to call it. It was surreal and happened too fast or perhaps I was just too dense to understand what was going on. Anyway, the point is: I somewhat experienced the taste of loss and couldn’t enjoy my stay in Hanoi before heading off to Jakarta. To make matters worse, my stay in Hanoi was terrible because:

– sleeping on the bed where your Mom probably conceived you more than a quarter of a century ago was NOT nice.

– having relatives who pampered you like a baby and at the same time asked you about your marriage plan or the lack thereof was also NOT nice.

– getting lectures (from your aunts!) on the traditional role of women/wives etc. was NOT nice at all.

I just wanted to get away. ASAP.

The only good thing was that I told bà ngoại about my nrr. Here is what she had to say about it: “Cha bố cô, lăng nhăng nó vừa vừa thôi !”*

Two weeks later, I could finally escape my Hanoian madness and arrived in Jakarta. It was October, just one day before The Millennial Anniversary of Hanoi (10/10/2010). For the first time in my life I really saw the effect of mass media on our perception of reality. It saddened me to see how such a beautiful country like Indonesia can be reduced to terrorism, natural disasters and extremism, etc. In fact, the first thing that my relatives in Vietnam told me when I mentioned to them that Indonesia would be my next stop was that I should be careful because it’s a dangerous place.

Anyway, back to the how-this-blog-came-to-life story. After my arrival in Jakarta, I finally took a break from writing because of the troubles it had brought me. In fact, writing was the main reason why I got involved in this nrr thing. So yes, something new had to come in. I opted for music and bought my first guitar in Jakarta. (Terima kasih, er…deni hanca. You are a true inspiration). Thanks to YouTube I’m now able to play some chords  and even had the crazy idea to perform at Bunny 3’s wedding but that’s another story.** But to tell you the truth: I have ached in the absence of written words. How long was long enough? It has been more than a year so I’ve decided to go back to do what I actually love. To make up for the “lost” time this blog will also deal with all the trips since my arrival in Jakarta. Accordingly some of them are only recollections and might lack details but I will try my best to capture them with my words though. Thank you.

* Had I not known any better, I would say that bà ngoại is more than awesome. You will read more about her awesomeness in other posts. Stay tuned.

** Update (15/01/2012): I couldn’t perform at Bunny 3’s wedding due to a chain of unfortunate events. In order to make up for this I had to play guitar and sing a song (Halo) at Bunny 2’s birthday party (in a pink dress). The original idea aka Bunny 1’s evil plan was to perform at Alexanderplatz  (Berlin) but Bunny 3 took pity on me since it was very cold on that Saturday.