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Composting Through the Pandemic

The great lockdown of 2020 no doubt shocked everyone and forced a cataclysmic change of lifestyle whether you were ready or not. I chose to spend the lockdown with my then-fiance Cung in his house in Bogor, right next to a huge organic farm called Kuntum Farmfield. There are worse places to be locked down in, so no complaints from me about location.

We walked daily to the farm to visit the horses, cows, sheep, goats, and many other farm residents. In addition to the animals, Kuntum also grew fresh produce, so we did not tire of fresh organic produce. The price? 1 bunch of fresh organic bokchoy for less than 2$. And only a 3 minute walk away. Glorious.

One of my future dreams is actually to be able to grow my own food, so I took advantage of the situation to start gardening. Well. experimenting really. With seeds, media, and compost being sold only a step away, it was the perfect situation.

Gardening Experiments

My gardening experiments started with garlic. Lo and behold, all the bulbs ultimately died because garlic is not a native herb to Indonesia (it needs cold winter months to hibernate before its growth will be stimulated). Silly me! I then tried everything from mint, rosemary, potatoes, sweet potatoes (got stolen by a rat! URGH), onions, and even avocadoes.

I had a lot of fun, but no success except for the avocadoes. The avocado babies bloomed, and there were so many in our backyard that it inspired me to name avocado as the theme of our wedding in August 2020. But to be fair, it takes about 7 more years before I can judge whether the avocado is a success or a failure so I probably should just hold off my big mouth.


Bins filled with organic food waste and dried leaves.

One thing for sure that was a success was composting. Yes, we made soil!!! From our food waste during the lockdown! At first, we both thought oh god, we’re just collecting trash in the garden. Cung stared helplessly at his stone garden which was I was demolishing with pots and pots of organic trash.

Most of the gardening blogs I looked at suggested a composting recipe of “greens” and “browns”. Greens are the food waste. Browns are dried leaves. So the compost bin should not stink, and if it is smelling bad that means there are not enough dried leaves in it. Simple enough!

We started about mid-March 2020, and religiously composted our organic trash until it became a habit and we didn’t even think twice about it. Fast forward 1 year to March 2021. Cung decided to peek into the pots. For him, the sooner the better to get rid of the pots.

Ta-DA! We have SOIL. Life-giving, food growing, brown earthy stuff. With long, fat, slimy wormies-major sign of fertility! It’s a one-year miracle. I never “made” soil before and simply knowing that I finally gave something back to my planet and mother earth instead of just taking and defiling her made me feel so much better about myself.

Rolling up my sleeves, getting my hands dirty, and composting is the life.

That’s one of my special memories from the 2020-2021 lockdown. We composted through the pandemic 🙂

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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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Did You Plant Those Trees?

The beginning of mulberries in Gupondoro.

It was Idul Fitri holidays, June 2017. This most festive of Indonesian holidays is celebrated after a month of fasting called Ramadhan. I was living with my husband Oky Kusprianto in a beautiful house he designed himself. He named it Gupondoro which means Home of Pigeons. Gupondoro was located in the middle of a village in Lembang, is a highland area to the west of Bandung city. Lembang is known for its forests, proximity to volcanoes, and cool weather.

Lembang is also a top tourist destination during holidays. With largely underdeveloped small mountain roads, this meant serious traffic jam. Of the horrific type where you are stuck for hours. Since neither Oky nor I wanted to get caught in tourist traffic, we planned to stay home for the week. Oky caught up on his designs while I practiced piano for an upcoming chamber music festival in New Hampshire, USA.

One particular day after an intense practice session, I gave myself a break by looking around our backyard.

“Huh!” I thought to myself. “There are berries in those trees!” I called to Oky, who was drawing as usual.

“Oky, did you plant those trees?”

“What trees?” He asked. I pointed impatiently at the blooming trees in our backyard.

“I didn’t plant any thing there… did YOU plant those trees?” He turned to me. I laughed.

“Are you serious? I‘m on the piano all the time. I have to take care of my hands and fingers.” I replied. As a professional pianist, I was always worrying about my hands because even the smallest cut or blister made it awkward to play. Of course later the joke was on me because I retired from performing and grew to love gardening.

Oky asked our housemate Ari, who lived on the bottom floor. Ari didn’t know about the trees either. This confirmed it to be quite a mysterious case indeed. After extensive research via our gardener, Oky discovered that the trees were planted by a village farmer who owed money to a local mafia. The berries from the trees were to be a form of payment.

This was an interesting predicament, because those trees were planted on our land.

“The fruit tastes really good. I sometimes take some and my wife makes it into jam,” our gardener whispered to us.

The situation kept getting weirder and weirder, albeit in a comical sort of way. I decided to go along with it.

“Can I try the jam?” I asked our gardener. He nodded.

“I’ll pick secretly before they notice and bring some jam here.”

“Ok. Thank you!” I said. “Make sure you don’t get caught…”

I tasted a spoon and fell in love. I knew it was worthy to be sold.

The next day his wife brought over some incredibly delicious mulberry jam. I tasted a spoon and fell in love. I knew it was worthy to be sold. Oky proceeded by settling off the farmer’s debt to the mafia. He also bought the grown trees so they formally belonged to us. We then asked our gardener to plant more mulberries in Gupondoro.

Since that time both Oky and the gardener’s wife have died, but I decided to continue with the trees and the jam. It was a way for me to keep feeling connected to him, while making some money on the side. Mulberries in Gupondoro bloom twice a year, and if you are in Bandung you will be lucky enough to taste it.

August 2020. Click here to visit Gupondoro in Lembang, Bandung (Indonesia).

Read more on my first impressions about Gupondoro in this post.

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Falling in Love with Gupondoro

The first time Oky brought me to this house was a couple months after we started dating. I had gotten the brief from his friends: he designed an amazing house-office for himself. But nothing could have prepared me for experiencing Gupon (as was the nickname for the house) for the first time. Coming from the side, it stood alone on the top of the hill. The entrance felt like a mysterious passageway in which one merged smoothly from nature and the outdoors into a cozy wooden cabin. I called it a treehouse for the longest of time. 

The stairs of the cabin revealed nothing of what the living room and loft was like. It was a clear night, and the glass walls allowed the sexy twinkles of city lights to seduce me. This was the second breathless moment, after that magical passageway. Later on there would be other moments in which Gupon stole my heart. As if it was a person you could get to know from various different angles. On that night though, I simply thought I could definitely live here. It just needed a piano…

Written for “Sketches and Regrets“, a permanent exhibition at Villa Gupondoro. The exhibition is accompanied with the book under the same title. To read more about the time I lived in Gupondoro before Oky died, visit this post: Did You Plant Those Trees.