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Book Review: She Smells of Turmeric

Bravo to Natasha Sondakh, the young Indonesian author for this lovely book. I came across She Smells of Turmeric when my book club (Mad Tea Book Club) invited Natasha as one of the guest speakers. The Indonesian-books talk was back in August 2021, and you can find the discussion here. I was glad to finally be able to read the book – and what a ride!


The author interspersed sections of this book with some great poems. At first hand they might not seem directly related to the prose, especially if you’re not into poetry. I’ve always loved poetry, and for me, the pieces emitted moods and emotions in a way which complimented the narrative. I’m so glad the author decided on this structure. It really added something special to the reading experience.


I definitely got Crazy Rich Asians vibes with this book. Since it takes place in Jakarta, it hits home even more. Being someone who has also lived in the United States and Indonesia, I can relate a lot to Cecelia (our main character’s) cultural experiences. Of course, Cece lives the life of the 0,01% of Indonesians, so if there was ever a sequel I’d be very curious to see what happens when Cece experiences more of Indonesia.

Traumas (potential spoiler)

Somethings happen to Cece which is sadly and unfairly common (1 in 3 women globally experience sexual violence), though I wasn’t expecting it at all in this book. It sounds weird, but I’m glad that section was included in She Smells of Turmeric. It shows that sexual assault, domestic violence, and abuse isn’t just rampant in lower economy societies – it happens in middle and higher up strata too. As a survivor myself, I think the author handled writing Cece’s emotions and reactions carefully and responsibly. It was not simplistic but rather fleshed out and empowering at the same time.

I finished She Smells of Turmeric in a day. Bravo to the author and I am looking forward to read more books from her in the future!

PS : Episode 13 of my podcast is going to be an in-depth conversation with Natasha, so stay tuned!

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Lessons from Indonesia’s Richest Woman

One of the most illustrious women I have the privilege to get to know is Giok Hartono, wife of Budi Hartono, the richest person in Indonesia. He is listed on Forbes with a net worth of US $18billion, most of the fortune coming from their family business Djarum clove cigarettes and stakes in Bank Central Asia. His wife is well known to love and support a wide range of the arts from visual to performing. It is through her philanthropy in music that our paths crossed.

Tante Giok (or Auntie, as I called her) was a patron of Cascade Trio, Indonesia’s premiere piano trio which I co-founded, active around the region from 2014-2019. In addition to financial gifts, she also opened her private facilities for us to rehearse at while we were in Jakarta. There are only so few Steinway pianos in Indonesia, and to be able to practice on one was an unimaginable luxury. Needless to say, her support made a huge difference to our musical careers.

From several conversations with her, I observed some daily habits which I have since tried to implement in my life.

1. She takes cold water showers every morning.

Although this sounds like self-torture, it actually has health benefits from increasing endorphins, improving metabolism and blood circulation, all the way to beauty benefits for hair, skin, and scalp. Tante Giok looks about 20 years younger than her real age.

2. She exercises at least one hour every single day.

I will never forget how in my first meeting with her. She proudly told me that she could still do the splits, and promptly demonstrated it right in front of me. I was speechless-not just because she was so flexible at her age, but more because I certainly did not expect the wealthiest lady in Indonesia to be so…unorthodox.

3. She always responds to her WhatsApp messages.

She might not respond immediately, but she would respond at least within 1-2 days. For someone like me who has done so much fundraising (this is the reality of a musicians’ life), I have gotten hundreds of rejected asks, and even more ignored asks. I was used to being disregarded by “important” people who had a lot of money. From getting to know her, I learned that truly important people don’t make other people feel bad. On the contrary, they make YOU feel important. Her default mode is treating everyone with respect, even the lowest person in the social chain.

I’ve been very lucky to be able to learn these lessons from Tante Giok Hartono. Are there super successful people that have surprised or inspired you with their daily habits?

Featured image: Giok Hartono as the goddess Dewi Banowati with Ali Marsudi as the heroic Arjuna in a wayang performance, December 2015. Photographed by Romli Sawunggaling.