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Famous Widows Creating Legacies

Since Oky’s death in June 2019, I have made it into one of my goals to preserve his architectural legacy. I truly believed he had unique ways of solving problems that could benefit further generations of Indonesian architects. Not only that, continuing his legacy keeps him in my life. Ancient Egyptians believed that people die twice: the first time when their bodies take their last breath and the second time when their name is spoken for the last time.

At least while I’m alive, I wish to set up structures that enable young designers and architects to look at his works, be inspired, and in turn create some awesome works. One of the ways I did this was by writing the book Sketches and Regrets.

In a podcast episode I did for The Widow Jokes (Janda Becanda) with Intania Fajar – herself a widow – she suggested this idea for other widows. Write about your husbands. Keep their memories alive – there is no reason NOT to keep remembering them. Unless, of course, if they were abusive husbands while they were alive.

What do Hamilton, Raffles, and Curie have in common?

You might be surprised because a lot of legendary men in history were famous because their widows wrote about them. Had their wives not written about them, they would not have enjoyed their place in history now. Some of these people are Alexander Hamilton, Sir Thomas Raffles, and Pierre Curie. They all died tragic deaths at a very young age, and guess who preserved and spread their works to the world? Their widows: Eliza Hamilton, Lady Sophia Raffles, and Marie Curie.

After the death of their spouses, they soldiered on, creating legends of their deceased husbands. In light of feminism, I often wonder why these famous widows did not just make legends of themselves? I bet they have as much brilliance (in Marie’s case RADIANCE) and with as their men, perhaps even more.

Going back to my situation, I find myself wanting to do both- keeping Oky’s legacy while also continuing to build my own life and story.

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Bobo Lie, Part 2

Now, Bobo Lie (as the huge Efferin-Lie clan) calls her, can’t recollect clearly who she is. Due to her dementia, she has no idea what day, time, or year it is. She has no teeth. But she doesn’t need teeth anymore because her food is all soft porridge-like meals.

She was one good cook.

Around the time my parents got married (the 1980s), Bobo Lie was about fifty years old. She lived in a large estate which she turned into a boarding home, sometimes with up to ten boarders at a time. She needed the money from boarders to survive and care for her sons. She has four sons, plus two nephews that she took under her wing because their mother-Bobo’s sister-had died at a young age.

If a woman can manage a home, she can manage an office. If she can manage an office, she can manage a company. If she can manage a company, she can manage a country.

In her home, Bobo always made sure the best meals were set out for everyone: sons, nephews, boarders, eventually daughters-in-law, and all the grandchildren that visited. Her signature dish was rawon: black beef soup with turmeric, lemongrass, lime, and green onions.

She was one angry lady.

The reason she needed to turn her house into a boarding home was because Kung-Kung (my grandfather) divorced Bobo in her forties. He was a highly respected doctor in Surabaya, East Java. One of the first medical professionals in the whole province, in fact. After three children, he left Bobo (who was pregnant with a fourth child) to marry another lady. Now, I call her Granny Rika. I call her that behind Bobo’s back. I suppose reconciliation takes generations.

According to Bobo Lie, she never wanted the divorce. But somehow, in one of her angry emotional fits towards an unfaithful husband, it is possible that she signed the papers in exchange for ownership of the large estate.

She was one talented lady.

Before she got married to Kung Kung, Bobo loved to sing. As a teenager, she won singing competitions and even sang regularly on the radio. Being a radio star in the 1950s is like being a YouTuber with millions of followers in 2021. She was the belle of the town.

Bobo continued singing as a hobby, even when her mental capacities started to decline. Somehow, she managed to remember melodies and songs. Sometimes, she even sat on my piano and plunked out some tunes.

I suppose she doesn’t remember any of this now.

But I do. And now, you do too.

Bobo means grandmother. It’s a common term for Chinese-Indonesian families. Kung Kung means grandfather, another common Chinese-Indonesian term.

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Bobo Lie, Part 1

Bobo Lie

In November 2020, my 95-year-old grandmother’s health condition dropped. After clearing with the necessary checks to confirm that it was not Covid, we admitted her to the hospital for about a week. Honestly speaking, her 4 sons, 4 daughters-in-laws, 12 grandchildren, and 9 great-grandchildren probably all had the same thought: Bobo Lie (that’s what we call her) is going to die soon. Her sons even gathered in the hospital room, hosting a masked service. Just in case.

Well, here we are in February 2021, celebrating Chinese New Year-Zoom family dinners and all. My father contracted the virus and got better (see my reflections on that), the nurse contracted the virus and got sent back to her village but through it all, Bobo Lie? Despite her dementia, she’s still alive and virus-free.

She is one tough lady.

She now lives with my uncle who takes excellent care of her. About five years ago, she was still staying with my parents. I was there practicing piano, as usual, preparing for a concert. I remember I was working on a Brahms Rhapsody. It was a particularly loud passage, so I couldn’t hear anything else. After the forte passage, I heard the household helper scream. My parents were not home, so the helper ran to my piano room in a panic. All she could say was “Bobo, Bobo, blood!” 

I stopped the Brahms and went to check inside Bobo’s room. Bobo was lying on the floor, surrounded by blood. She was conscious though and calmly asked me to help her.

“What happened?” I asked, trying to help her get up.

“The scissors,” she answered vaguely. I saw there was a pair of scissors in the pool of blood, and there was a huge gash on her hand. I knew that she did her sewing, so it was likely that she lost muscular control and somehow fell while cutting her hand very badly.

She is one generous lady.

Bobo is much too old to go anywhere now. Ten years ago she was still able to go to church every Sunday. At that time, her dementia was just beginning. She dressed up as usual, and put some money in her wallet for the offering. The church protocol was for an offering bag to be passed from person to person as people put their money gifts in the bag. Sometimes there would be different colored bags for different purposes/projects.

When the bag reached her, she took out her wallet. There was the money she had prepared: a twenty thousand rupiah bill (equivalent to 15 USD), and spare change in the form of a one hundred rupiah coin (equivalent to 0,01 US cent). I suppose she originally meant to give the bill. However, she reached for the coin instead and dropped it proudly in the offering bag. Reactions from surrounding people included laughter and embarrassment. Perhaps in her mind, she was back half a century ago before the devaluation of the Indonesian currency. Back to a time when coins were still valuable while that particular bill had not even existed yet.

She is one beautiful lady.

When I was a child, my parents often took me to visit Surabaya in East Java. Bobo Lie lived in Surabaya until she was seventy. Then she moved to Bandung (West Java), where three of her four sons lived.

She introduced me to this amazing thing called nail polish. Her nails were always shiny with bright colors. She taught me how to cut my nails properly, how to patiently polish them, and also how to remove the polish when I got bored of the color. Bobo had a large collection of different brands and shades of nail polish. Manicure was an art form for her.

Sadly, I don’t keep up with proper care of my nails. I wonder what she would say now, if only she still recognized who I am.

Continued to Bobo Lie, Part 2.

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Movie Review: Radioactive (2020)

“I have suffered much more from a lack of resources and funds, than I ever did from being a woman,” says Marie Curie in the 2020 retelling of her life: Radioactive. Directed by Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis) with Rosamund Pike as the brilliant scientist, this movie aims to be an inspiration to young girls.

How is Radioactive inspiring young girls?

Marie Curie’s life is already an inspiration; 2 Nobel prizes in the field of physics and chemistry. Satrapi adds into this her bold directing vision: cutting and lurching to scenes in the future which are completely unrelated to the plot. Right after Marie Curie announces their discovery of two new elements-radium and polonium-the scene launches to a doctor in Cleveland, Ohio, explaining a new medical treatment for cancer called radiation. At one of the most heart-wrenching moments of Pike’s acting, the scene cuts to the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown of 1986.

Some movie lovers will despise this style of storytelling. I, however, found this reinforcement of dichotomy to be brave and daring, showing how the actions in one person’s life can create such impact (for the better or for the worse) into the future. Marie Curie directly impacted her daughter Irene (played by Anya Taylor-Joy of The Queen’s Gambit), who went on to win a Nobel prize of her own. Indirectly Marie Curie impacted humankind all around the globe forevermore. To me, this gives the extraordinary message that women do have power.

To me, this gives the extraordinary message that women do have power.

Despite all odds, the headstrong Marie was able to find a husband that respected and supported her science. For a moment, at least, it was possible to have both love and a dazzling career. I find this to be another powerful message for a world which tells women that we have to choose. We can have love but we must clip our wings, or we can choose a glorious career but stay a spinster until old age.

“I wasn’t a very good mother, was I?” Marie admits to an adult Irene as they are heading into a World War I battlefield. Mothering is difficult. Put on top of that being a single mother and juggling a world famous career. How does one play all these roles? Is it even possible? Or are these illogical demands we put on girls and women who long to have both kids and a CV? And yet, Irene Curie turned out just fine in her own accord.

Finally, I was most taken aback by the line that Marie Curie suffered more from lack of resources than from being a woman. This is so fresh. Satrapi’s Curie never victimizes herself as a woman dominated by men. She is confident with her mind, her values, and her worth. And this is why I find Radioactive so inspiring.

Have you seen Radioactive? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!