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Landlady? Who?

When Oky died in 2019, I was suddenly left with Gupondoro, an estate of about 750 square meters in Lembang, Bandung. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this needed a HUGE adjustment on my side. To be kind to myself, I clearly had many other issues to deal with those months. As nice and romantic as it sounds to inherit a beautiful, architecturally special home, real life has a way of waking you up with cold water, doesn’t it? Being a landlady is no walk in the park.

Newbie House Owner

To give some background: although I had lived by myself in the States for about 6 years, I never owned a room, let alone a house. The longest time I stayed in one apartment building was 1 year. Going from renting a room and having a system handy to call if anything went wrong to OWNING land and trees and a four-story HOUSE in a matter of one day was, to be honest, overwhelming. I’m a landlady? What does that even MEAN?

The infested tree.

Well, apparently it means when lightning rods break down I had to do something about it. It means when the huge tree in front of the house becomes infested with bugs and is likely to fall down, I have to take action before it goes the way of the lightning rod. It means dealing with gardeners that don’t have phones because they are too poor, and are hard to find, and as such obviously hard to communicate with. It means renovating the stairs when one part of the steps is about to collapse. It means dragging up water supply during the dry season because there is NOT ENOUGH WATER FOR THE WHOLE VILLAGE.

Hey, I didn’t sign up for this, I say to myself.

But wait, who is going to do it for me if I don’t learn? Damn.

Broken lightning rod.

The first consolation for me is that I partnered up with Alexandra and Marcel to prepare the house for receiving guests on AirBnB. It was the only way to cover all the maintenance costs that seemed to pop out of nowhere without end. I learned quickly that owning a house means you must build an emergency house fund. Anything can happen, and you’re screwed if you’re caught unprepared with some extra cash.

I love architects!

The picnic table needs a major reconstruction.

The next consolation for me is that my second husband Cung is also an architect. This means he can advise me on the necessary steps I have to take (for free, tee hee). People ask me why I married another architect again. Well, what can I say? They are pretty handy people!

Recently, the large wooden picnic table and the long chairs in the garden finally gave way to the weather, time, and rot. I called Rendy, who incidentally was one of Oky’s best friends. Rendy was also the one to introduce me to Cung (now that’s a juicy tale to tell) and asked for his help. Rendy (who is also an architect!) specializes in creating furniture from recycled material. He took up the challenge with Conture Concrete Lab. The whole process took about 2 months. Everyone is happy with the results.

New table!!!

I’m relieved for now, but also slightly anxious at what problems will come up next month. Goodness, look at me talking like a landlady.

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Book Review: Iron Hearted Violet

15/60 books in my Goodreads challenge! 25% of the way, yay to myself. Kelly Barnhill‘s Iron Hearted Violet is exactly my type of reading: young adult fantasy with a strong female heroine. I lapped it up in a couple of hours. The Who Girl Who Drank the Moon also by this author blew me away, so I decided to try this earlier book. Before proceeding: Spoiler Alerts!!!

It’s interesting that you can really note how an author advances in his / her writing, as the prose in Iron Hearted Violet is not as smooth as The Girl Who Drank The Moon. Some changes happened rather quickly without solid reasoning or explanation, and sometimes characters were introduced and re-introduced (the Captain Marda) without a certain reason as to why the special treatment if they were only minor characters.

A Fantasy to Challenge Beauty Ideals

Princess Violet was born ugly, unlike her beautiful Queen mother. But what she lacked in looks she overflowed in wits, energy, and vitality. The country loved her until an old creature called the Nybbas saw an opportunity to use Violet’s looks against herself and everyone else. The schemes of the Nybbas sowed insecurities inside the Princess, and soon our heroine starts to self-destruct. Something worth mentioning is that in the illustrations, Violet looked just fine-she didn’t look ugly at all.

I liked that the ideal of beauty was challenged, but I did not agree with the choice of the challenge. In Iron Hearted Violet, real princesses had to have long beautiful hair. Of course Violet then asked this from the Nybbas, and later found out how annoying it was to have long beautiful hair. I personally don’t have anything against it. In fact, in some Native American and shamanistic cultures, hair was recognized as part of the person’s very soul and energy. That’s why shamans grow out their hair.

A Plethora of Supporting Creatures

The stable boy Demetrius proves a great supporting character, while the Nybbas is truly a villain. There was no gray in-betweens in Iron Hearted Violet. The antagonist was a dirty lying creature to its core. Any sympathy you show the creature will be used against a you-just look at what happened to the Mad King of the Lowlands. His body basically was eaten from within by golden fire breathing lizards that were armies of the Nybbas.

There is an old wise, fairy/leprechaun lady called Auntie who continuously calls another younger fairy/leprechaun “idiot.” This kind of language doesn’t sit right with me, even if I know the context is love. Maybe the word “silly” will do?

The star of the book was, of course, the dragon. The last dragon left in Violet’s mirrored world was ancient, old, broken, and frankly in a deep depression. Violet manages to befriend the dragon and operate a procedure that returns its youth and power. Together, they defeat the Nybbas.

Having just watched Disney’s Raya and the Last Dragon, I realized how very different are portrayals of dragons in western fantasy literature in comparison to eastern fantasy literature. This fascinating topic deserves a blog post to itself, but suffice it to say for now that anything with girls, dragons, calm reliable supporters, and magic is a recipe I like.

The execution though could have been more polished. My rating is 3/5.

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Pluck, Cut, Pluck, a monologue

A woman struggles with all the hair on her face, questioning ideals of beauty and logistical costs of those ideals.

Setting: a woman is alone on the stage with a dresser that has a mirror. Next to it is a garbage bin. Her cellphone is one of the items on the dresser, along with beauty magazines.

Time: The year of 2020 during the Corona Virus pandemic.

Look, there’s hair growing underneath my tattoed eyebrows. Now I have to clumsily pluck them out, or make an appointment with my eyebrow tattoo artist. She did a marvelous job two years ago. But now they’ve started growing all around, making a mess again. I wonder if she is still in the eyebrow business now, with the pandemic and all that. She sends me regular whatsapp blasts about all the homemade sweets she is making and selling, so maybe she’s doing that fulltime now? I mean, I don’t get eyebrow messages anymore.

Oh no, there is also hair growing on top of my lips, and for that matter, underneath my lower lip! Ok I can bear the eyebrow hair, but plucking these tiny hairs hurt like hell. It makes my skin all puffy afterwards too. Maybe I can see if that cute waxing place in Jakarta does facial wax. But goddamn, if it hurts as much as vaginal waxing, I don’t think I can handle it. They always say it doesn’t hurt…that much, with an apologetic smile. Which you know means “sorry, that’s the price of looking pretty.”

Whoever decided that pretty meant no facial hair for women anyways? I have hair sprouting everywhere and pain aside it costs so damn much to get them removed regularly. Don’t even get me started about armpit hair and leg hair.

Eek, I can’t look, oh where are those scissors. Now my nose hair is peeking out! Ok even I can’t stand to leave this on. Where are those goddamn scissors??

She looks in a bag full of different facial utensils. She pulls out a nose hair scissors that is dirty and rusty. She stares at how rusty it is and has a second thought.

Um, wow. I didn’t realize how long I’ve been staying at home not having to use this stuff. They’re all sticky and gross. I don’t want to develop nose infection. But I can’t stand those nose hairs either. And have people been seeing them this whole time on my Zoom meetings? Oh SHIT. I know, I’ll just use the scissors for paper and crafts to remove those nasty hairs.

She pulls open a drawer with bigger scissors. This drawer has other office supplies.

Well it’s a bit um BIG. I hope I don’t accidentally cut anything I’m not supposed to cut. But this is better than the gross nose hair scissors. I might get tetanus or something. And this is definitely better than having those ugly evil looking hair peeking out of my nose. I can feel the hair just sneering at me! Uh quick, let’s just cut away.

She focuses and cuts them. Then she relaxes and takes a deep breath.

Phew. No blood on the scissors, I’m not feeling any cuts, and I think I can still smell. I would say that was a success.

She wipes the scissors with tissue, then puts the paper scissors back in the drawer and throws the small scissors into the garbage bin. Turning back towards the mirror, she notices her ears.

Don’t tell me now…(she leans forward sideways, trying to inspect her ears more carefully). Thank goodness. No hair there. I’ve seen some people with thicker ear hair, and I wonder however are they supposed to cut them? I mean, is there a special ear hair shaver? Can you even do that without getting deaf? Well, at least that’s one place my hair is fine and thin and not sneeringly black. Glad I don’t have to worry about that.

Oh dear, all this is just causing me too much anxiety. I need to find something to calm myself down and feel happy again. (She thinks and her eyes spot her cellphone.) Maybe I’ll order one of those homemade dessert my eyebrow tattoo artist is now selling.

She flips over the beauty magazines so the cover is facing down. She then leaves the stage with her phone while making a call to the eyebrow tattoo artist.

Hello, long time no see! Are you healthy? I hope the pandemic and lockdown hasn’t gotten the worst of you? My eyebrows? Yeah you know, I’m not going to worry about that at the moment. Look I get all these pictures of delicious looking homemade desserts…

Lights fade out to BLACK. END OF MONOLOGUE.


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Sexy Start-Ups – Podcast Episode 5

Anna with the Squalane Sherbet Cleansing Balm from The Skin Diary

This young lady started her entrepreneurship journey early. I mean, as early as elementary school age. Yup, she’s been in start-ups since that young. One time she even got her business confiscated by her high school teacher!

Seriously, if you are looking for ideas to build a side business, meet Anna Febriana Jaelawijaya. She’ll show you all you need for a start-up is a phone and a brain. Her most recent project is an all natural skincare brand called The Skin Diary, which she launched after getting certified from Formula Botanica in the UK.

Psst: I also use some of her products, and I am loving it. If you listen closely enough, she has a special discount code for listeners of the podcast!

To make things better: if you subscribe to my mailing list I will be giving away 2 TSD Squalane Sherbet Cleansing Balm to 2 lucky winners (Indonesian based) of the Podcast Quiz! The Podcast Quiz will run from Friday, April 2 until Monday, April 5 exclusively for my mailing list subscribers.

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My Acne Journey, part 2

I noticed the vaginal cysts because I started bleeding (having my period) twice a month. The “second” cycle came about two weeks after the usual cycle. It was brown older blood, and it hurt. Like, hell.

I consulted friend, nutritionist, and pharmacist Anna Meiliana (remember her from my very first podcast episode?) about my problem. Well since about 2019 I have been building much healthier lifestyle habits. I exercise daily by walking or swimming (or even diving when I’m on the island!), cut down on the MSG and junk food I eat (I still eat some, but it’s vastly reduced), have a much healthier mental state, and consciously drink a lot of water. I don’t drink alcohol too much. I do smoke from a pipe every once in a while- in once every couple of months so I don’t think it affects my lungs too much. Since the pandemic started, I’ve also gotten much more sleep hours in.

Vaginal cysts.

From this, she deduced that it was probably something hormonal and urged me to check with a gynecologist. I chose Melinda Hospital because it’s one of the best (pricey, but very good) women’s healthcare hospitals in Bandung. People recommended Doctor Julius, and my husband Cung accompanied me.

Dr. Julius was great! Highly recommended if you are looking for a gynecologist in the West Java area. Images from the ultrasonography indeed confirmed the cysts. When I told Doctor Julius about my healthy lifestyle, he also asked if I was taking any hormone pills. Out came the confession about my acne pills.

Needless to say, I stopped those meds. Dr. Julius recommended birth control pills instead for 1 month, with very strict daily timing. I checked up again after a month and the cysts were all gone.

Seeking a Healthier Long-Term Solution to My Acne Journey

Butโ€ฆ you know what’s coming right? I had to deal with my reappearing acne again. This time, I was determined to try something more natural to prevent future cysts. And I wasn’t going to try urine therapy again (check out part 1 of this topic). During the lockdown, I experimented with lemons. It didn’t have any bad side effects, but I just felt it was not strong enough. I wanted to exterminate the acne bacteria. Aloe vera proved to be a stronger disinfectant.

For the aloe vera, I simply cut off a small piece of the plant, store the rest in the fridge, and rub it on the inflamed places on my face. If you don’t have a garden, the aloe vera plant should be easily available at grocery stores near you. It’s a great low-cost option. Make sure to do an allergy test though by testing it to a small patch of your skin before rubbing it on your face.

In addition to aloe vera, what has been helping my acne journey includes also AFC supplements, The Skin Diary Squalane Sherbet Cleansing Balm, and Argan Rosy Velvet Moisturizer. I’m happy with the result so far-finally feeling that it’s getting manageable with a better long-term solution than the pills I took when I was younger.

The 5th episode of my podcast is with The Skin Diary’s Anna Febriana Jaelawijaya (another awesome Anna!), so please tune in if you’d like to hear more about The Skin Diary!

Do you have skin woes? How do you deal with it? Share in the comments!

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My Acne Journey, part 1

May 2008, With dear friend Katie Velasco (now Katie Crosby).

I’ve had acne for as long as I can remember. Oops, scratch that – I’ve played piano longer (I started piano when I was 6 years old). What I mean is, it feels like I’ve had acne forever. If you see pictures of my skin looking alright now, it’s probably the Tiktok filter, or just the right light hitting at the perfect moment and I’m quickly pointing to my husband Cung saying “Hurry! Take a photo now!”

My acne journey has gotten better since the lockdown – interesting how the pandemic improved my skin quality. I think it’s a combination of not being out so much in the polluted air of Bandung and Jakarta, getting more sleep, drinking more water, eating great supplements, using aloe vera, and using all-natural skincare products.

Complicated eh? You bet. Way too many factors. That’s skincare for you, especially if you have sensitive or combination skin. It’s seriously way more complicated than relationships.

My skin is much more complicated than any relationship I’ve been in. And I’ve been in a lot.

The first outbreak of my acne journey started in junior high when I was about 14 or 15, and continued on until my mid-20s. I’ve tried everything under the sun, even – look don’t judge me here – even my own urine. I think it’s something called urine therapy. It’s far-out, I know. But I was desperate. I didn’t feel good, nor beautiful.

Drastic Actions

May 2011, in Texas. Taken by roommate Hye Young Lois Bang

When I finally got sick of my acne, I decided to try hormonal meds. The hormones were so strong the dermatologist said I have to stop eating this 1 year before I want to have kids. Well luckily, I didn’t plan to have kids soon. But I did plan to end my acne, whatever it demanded.

So I consumed the meds, and IT WORKED. However, when I was not taking it, my pimples would start to appear. That’s why I kept taking it for about 5 years until 2020.

To be honest, it was fine for those 5 years. My acne disappeared and I was happy. One day, all that hormonal build-up finally showed side effects.

In October 2020 I developed vaginal cysts.

To be continued to part 2.

Acne can be debilitating for self confidence. If you need a reminder of your beauty, read this poem.

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Book Review: Omoiyari

Omoiyari by Erin Niimi Longhurst is the 12th book I read this year. The 11th book was The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin, which I reviewed on my TikTok account.

I usually buy and read books on my super antique Kindle (I got it way back in 2008!). So I go to bookstores and later buy the Kindle version because it’s often cheaper. This one, however, had such a beautiful cover that I could not resist. My husband Cung was familiar with Ryo Takemasa as an illustrator, so I thought if I’m going to buy a hardcopy, might as well buy a beautifully colored one.

Lovely Illustrations

The photography and illustrations did not disappoint. They were very well chosen with the philosophies of Japanese culture that the author brought up. A delightful book for my eyes.

I always enjoy learning more about different cultures (well this whole book is about another culture) so I was satisfied with learning about concepts such as omoiyari, kintsugi, and senzaburu (a thousand paper cranes) from the author.

The Reader’s Historical Background

Photo from teamtouring.net

Looking deeper into myself however, I realized that this book triggered some things inside. Being Indonesian, I am exposed through our history to all the horrors of the Japanese invasion from 1942-1945. There was a lot of horror during those years. When the author talked about forest-bathing as Japanese culture, I think of Taman Hutan Raya Djuanda, the forest in Bandung that I regularly walk at. In this forest, there are caves and tunnels called Dutch Caves and Japanese Caves where Japanese soldiers hid their ammunition.

It also evokes a book I read last year titled The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See about the haenyo (female divers) of Jeju Island. In 1910, Japan annexed Korea, including Jeju. Oh goodness, some of the stories were too painful to read. 

So for me, as much as I enjoyed learning about the compassionate side of Japanese culture, I also remember that there are two sides to everything. Even the most beautiful cultures have committed dark atrocities.

I suppose that is just the reality of this world.

Have you read Omoiyari? What did you think?

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What Do You Seek? a poem

Do you seek beauty

lovely as the full moon

fleeting as the morning bird?

Do you seek power

crushing as the thunder

commanding the hearts of men?

Do you seek wealth

shining glittery gems

born of the ground

chiseled by crafty hands?

Do you seek glory

the ardent praise of your fellows

a hall full of standing applause?

Do you seek solitude

the calm lake by the mountains

which reflects your face clearly?

Do you seek friendship

a relationship to test time

standing by in each other’s storms?

Do you seek immortality

a legacy sketched in history?

Oh wandering soul

do you know what it is you seek?

For my other poems, take a look at A Season of Poetry.

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Finished Writing Nisha Sequel!

I am SO EXCITED!

The Nisha sequel is another novella format with 24 thousand words (the first one had 21 thousand words). There are two backstories: Faris’ and Saad’s backstories which I had actually written last year right after I finished Nisha. Then I put it away and started writing narratives for Sketches and Regrets.

The plan was to pick back up on the sequel in December. Away at a small island diving and writing -sounds pretty dreamy, doesn’t it? Well, too many things happened that month (read about my dad getting Covid). I’m just glad we all made it through the year.

Thus here we are at the beginning of 2021 and I had no other excuse. I thought if I was going to write I might as well hack away and punch at the keyboard. I think something about the years of concert pianist training paid off because I am VERY disciplined. And I can punch at keyboards pretty fast ๐Ÿ˜€

Battle Scenes in the Nisha Sequel

What was challenging for me was the first battle scene between some of our heroes and their enemies: the Aklums. I never wrote a battle scene before and didn’t know where to start. Research saved the day. This writing blog had great tips on creating fast-paced battle scenes.

I also read up on some epic battle scenes from Tolkien and Nancy Springer (The Book of Isle). After that, there was not much else but to just go and try it. One Sunday afternoon I woke up super early (about 5 AM) to condition myself. I drank some water, opened the laptop, and just dove in.

I’m so glad I kept at it because the next battle scene became easier. There are 2 battle scenes in this sequel, and they are crucial to the plot. The feeling after finishing the last chapter of the sequel is exhilarating!

A writing mentor Devika Brendon posted this on her Instagram several months ago.

From Devika’s Instagram post: July 24 2020

Well the draft is now in the trustworthy hands of my editor: Chriswan Sungkono. Wish me luck everyone!

Nisha is available in eBook and audiobook format at the shop.

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Movie Review: Raya and the Last Dragon

Five Stars. I haven’t been this excited about Disney since Frozen (the first one) came out back in 2013. And I hope Raya and the Last Dragon goes the way of Frozen in terms of popularity. Before I gush on about why I love Raya, let me go over two minor factors I wished was different. Before you proceed: Spoiler Alerts!!

Music

We all miss the Disney musical magic when it hits the right spot with songs. I can imagine how awesome it would be if it was a full blown musical with sounds of traditional Southeast Asian instruments such as gamelan, angklung, kendang (the list goes on because there is so many) mixed with the modern orchestrations of James Newton Howard.

Ending

Everyone that was altered by the Druun (a form of negative energy that turns living beings into stone) returned back to their original form in the end. Okay, so we probably saw this coming, being a Disney children movie and all that, but it’s clichรฉ. Every one comes back to life? We know that’s not what happens in reality. I mean, so far not one person I know that has died has ever managed to come back to life, no matter how much I decide to trust other people…I guess once you have experienced death, your outlook on everything changes (read about my discussion on coping with grief). One might argue it’s a children movie, but children face death, grief, and loss just as much as adults do.

One might argue it’s a children movie, but children face death, grief, and loss just as much as adults do.

That’s it. Now moving on the the reasons why I cried buckets until my eyes were swollen afterwards.

Southeast Asian Culture

As an Indonesian, I know the richness of the culture in this area of the world. It’s one of the hotspots of cultural diversity, and I have always wondered when Disney would create something from Southeast Asia folklores. FINALLY, it does so with a bang in Raya and the Last Dragon. I loved all the little cultural details they depicted, like taking off shoes as a sign of respect, soup which looks like tom-yum (my favorite Thai soup), Tuk-Tuk (a term for a vehicle which is a cross between a motorcycle and a car), even the con baby. Yes, they use con babies here to beg money from you in the streets. It’s a sad but true sign of the large socio-economic disparity you can see everyday on our streets.

My favorite cultural detail was how they incorporated wordless gestures as a sign of respect. When Namaari passed the garden of the stone dragons in worshipful silence and showed the statues the circle hand gesture of respect – gorgeous.

Female Power

There was no trope gender issues like in the recent Mulan. The females here were skilled, trained, and powerful. There were no problems that the Chief of Fang was a woman, nor that Raya was to be the next Chief of Heart after her father. Cute old Grandma was the meanest mafia boss Talon had ever seen, and of course, baby Noi steals the show!

Humor and Richness of Emotions

So much joyful humor, especially from the dragon Sisu as voiced by Awkwafina. The young entrepreneur (boatpreneur?) Boun was also a lovingly hilarious treat. His character shows the optimistic, youthful entrepreneurial spirit that exists all across Southeast Asia.

The emotional intensity of Raya and the Last Dragon lays in trust and betrayal of that trust. Everyone who has ever been betrayed or stabbed in the back will understand Raya’s internal struggle.

Sense of Wonder

What cemented this movie for me was Namaari’s love and sense of wonder for the dragons. That look on her face when she saw Sisu for the first time-I know that look. It’s the look on my face when I dive and see a mola-mola (the elusive sunfish) for the first time, or when a whaleshark suddenly appears in the deep blue.

Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment.

Rumi

Disney hit this on the nail. In the midst of brokenness, there is astonishing unexplainable beauty for those who still seek it.

Have you seen Raya and the Last Dragon? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!