Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Paris of Indonesia: a travelogue


 At the baggage collection area smaller than the size of a classroom, we waited almost anxiously for the first baggage to appear. We had just walked across the aeroplane runway, somewhat amazed at how small the airport was. As the baggage started coming in, a biggish tired-looking chap started helping the service officer to unload them. My heart warmed at the sight of other travelers giving a hand to move the luggage along the conveyer belt.


This would begin my 4-day stay in Bandung, where smiles are common and the locals ever so polite. There are hardly any traffic lights in the third largest city of Indonesia but there is order amidst the seeming chaos. Drivers honk to give way and signal to other drivers, not in anger. As our driver Saifu weaved in and out of the maze of streets, we looked in awe as horses bearing people in carriages clopped alongside motorbikes and cars. An alternative mode of getting around, traveling by horse carriages cost around $10 000-$15 000 RP according to Saifu. I badly wanted to try it but we couldn't fit this into our plans.

Saifu probably thought that as Singaporeans, we love shopping. Our first day was spent at no less than 5 factory outlets selling mostly clothes at really cheap prices, ending with pretty good ramen (Ramen 38 TSM) at Cihampelas Walk. Cihampelas Walk is a shopping mall that would feel familiar to most Singaporeans, with chains like Baskin Robbins and Coffeebean. We were spoilt for choices during dinner with Japanese, Korean, Chinese and even Thai cuisine to choose from.








The highlight of Day 2 was crater lake Kawah Putih. Admission which was priced at $30 000 RP (around $3.00 SGD) gave us entrance into a still blue lake surrounded by mist. After we were satisfied with the shots taken, we left the lake hunt for street food in the surrounding area where there were vendors selling tahu goreng (fried tofu), ayam soto (yellow spicy chicken soup) and other small bites.





 Eventually we ended up in a small eatery, enticed by the sweet smell of grilled corn and convinced by the endorsement of a young couple munching on one each. I ordered Indomie Telur, which was just instant noodles with egg but tasted so good in the cold weather.


Besides Kawah Putih at southern Bandung, another famous volcanic site is Tangkuban Perahu which is north of Bandung. It was a delightful climb in the cool air up the roughly cut steps to get a panoramic view. Along the way, there are vendors selling trinkets like wooden angklungs. The resonant notes gave a pleasant vibe to the market area amidst vendors touting their wares.



Earlier on, we were a bit miffed as Saifu had unexpectedly brought us to Sari Ater Hot Springs Park. This is a hot springs hotel and resort with numerous sites to soak your feet or take a hot bath. The previous day he had mentioned 'hot springs' and 'swimming' but we had assumed that this was at Tangkuban Perahu. Our rudimentary Malay did not allow us to clarify further. While this language barrier gave a sense of uncertainty as we sat inside the van not knowing whether we will end up at the 'correct' place, the surprises were largely quite pleasant. It was my first time soaking in geothermally heated water and I began to enjoy it after the initial shriek of surprise at how hot the water was.

On the last day, we trooped to Parar Baru Trade Center, which is this 7-storey building selling textiles, bedsheets, clothes, bags at low prices. Be prepared to use your negotiation skills to get these though as the prices would usually be marked up for tourists. I bought a chic red windbreaker at around $8 SGD after some bargaining! Wandering out into the streets, we jostled through the people to find a store selling all sorts of keropok (deep fried crackers). Buying some of each type, we ended up with a luggage-full of those. Along the way, I saw a street hawker spreading a white batter onto a waffle-like griddle. They turned out to be coconut pancakes, not overly-sweet and filled with fresh coconut shreds.

Satisfied with our loot, we allowed Saifu to bring us to a museum (Museum Geologi) which turned out to have pretty interesting animal fossils. However other than those, we were left feeling rather bored as all the explanations were in Bahasa Indonesia and there was not much to see.


 Apparently another tourist spot is Trans Studio Bandung, which we were not keen on going but went there for lunch anyway. It is a theme park which seems to mimic Universal Studios, but with local characters. Not their type of fun for the 3 oldies I was travelling with.


Our last major stop was Kartikasari,which is popular for their brownies. They sell other traditional confectionery like kueh lapis too. Prices are not exactly cheap but the kueh lapis is definitely cheaper over here than in Singapore. Our baskets filled up fast as we walked through the shop, naming people whom we wanted to gift.



We were initially worried that we would not be able to have breakfast before checking out, as we had to leave Aston Braga hotel at 7am. These worries were unfounded as the hotel staff cheerily told us that they would be able to pack breakfast for us if we really could not have it at the hotel. We booked a 3 bedroom suite, which was outfitted with a mini kitchen. Service was superb, and it is worth mentioning that the room service staff did not take our tips after the first day.

So we were back to the small airport, which was about 30 minutes away from our hotel. The amicable staff made up where the infrastructure was lacking. This pretty encapsulates what we felt at Bandung. The city is much less developed compared to Singapore, but the locals are warm and sincere, leaving us to say 'Jumpa lagi' (Meet again) to Saifu at the airport.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Cats

This blog post is prompted by a conversation I had last Friday with my dear friends. I guess I've kinda known this for some time now, but hearing it articulated and seeing it felt troubled me. 

In worldly terms, I have excelled in university. Not only grades, but God has blessed me with various ministries which I find meaning and satisfaction in. I have never felt as congruent as I have my whole life to be studying social work and applying what I have learnt to meet the seen needs around me. 

I don't know if this makes my friends feel lesser, but that they think highly of me I feel like there is a need to respond to that. And as I was reflecting I thought of an analogy so here goes:


 I am like this cat. You won't think of cats as cuddly creatures. In fact they give a whiff of wanting their own personal space and wanting to be left alone.                                                                                                                                  In short, they can seem so sufficient by themselves.                                                                                                                    But touch its soft spot and watch it close its eyes in joy! (Okay but I'm awkward with touches and need to consciously tell myself to relax when an arm is placed around me/I am hugged)                                                                                                                                                                                            As capable as I am in some things, I can tell you that I grapple with many others. When I was learning about anxiety disorders this semester, I found myself identifying with a lot of the symptoms of social anxiety disorder. Not only that, I grapple with relating to others as I would like, with being my God-centred self, with feelings that I am not liked. 
      

There are days when you see this confident person talking to many people. These are when those thoughts of negative appraisal from others towards me take an intermission, or when I manage to ignore them. 

I once told a friend everyone seems like an extrovert to me because I was like 'How do you talk to people and get close to them? How does this social thing even work man?!'

With this sense of 'lesser-ness' comes the temptation to think that I am better than others to compensate. Or in the busyness to think that friends are less important.








I chose to focus on this social thing out of all my non-strengths because this is something I keenly felt after entering university. With neither class nor boyfriend to stick to, and with the biblical call to fellowship, I suddenly had to navigate uncharted territories in friendships. 




Do I act aloof like a cat as I am used to doing or do I pluck up courage to talk to people? How am I supposed to initiate a meet up? D: These things still roils my stomach. 

"In his grace, God had given us different gifts for doing certain things well." (Romans 12:6, NLT) 
This implies that there are some things which I do less well in. I guess what I want to say (and also to remind myself) is to know our non-strengths, not to be ashamed of them and feel lesser by them. Often it is precisely my non-strength that helps me to depend on God. 

Though I grapple with words like I am now trying to end, ultimately I thank God for the hope that I have. The hope that assures me that 'All's well' for me as a child of God, even if I bungle the conclusion or even the whole blog post, even if anything for that matter.                                                           









Thursday, November 6, 2014

Written in the Stars

Another semester of school is ending soon, and as I reflect on this semester, the chorus of Written in the Stars (Westlife, not Tenie Tempah) rang so true:

When I look at my life, how the pieces fall into place, it just wouldn't rhyme, without You

At my very core, You satisfy me Lord. And You have taught me to truly delight in You and You only this semester.

When I so desperately wanted friends, not to bless them but rather to have people to eat lunch with so I won't worry about eating lunch alone in school, to cafe hop with, to take nice pictures with, You did not give it to me. Instead, You showed me how self-centred I am.
Then, when I told You, I must centre myself on You so please help me to- You gave me company when I needed it. I found that I was a better friend, and much more assured in the friendships I have.

When I see how my path, seem to end up before Your face

When I asked to be rooted deeper in church, You showed me that again, fellowship is God-centred: a fellowship on a mission to witness the gospel. Definitely not by chance, I started talking to more people in church, feeling less of a sojourner and more a member.

The state of my heart, the place where we are, was written in the stars

Yes, the place where I am is also where You are. Thank you for journeying with me Lord. My heart is filled and thus it overflows with love- joy at meeting the needs of others.

I made a few mistakes, yea, like sometimes we ^always do

Forgive me for wanting to glorify myself, for being proud when I receive praise. I remember telling You, I don't have a pure heart. Yet, You have affirmed and glorified Yourself exceedingly through using me in various ministries. Thank You for the ministry given to me which I enjoy and find meaning in.

Been through lot of heartache, but I made it back to you   You were always there for me

In social groupwork terms, Father You really trust in the process, don't You? But of course, You have full control over it. Thank You for the 'heartaches', they have brought me closer to seeing You for who You truly are.

(those soulful eyes...)

Ta-ta! 

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Sunday soul food




It went from- okay I will sit through this one hour- to this stirring of affections as I am called back to live by the Spirit, reminded that my groaning is a witness of my salvation. It ends off with the awesome promise to us as children of God- being heirs to all creation, the redeemed creation.

Claiming God's promises is a struggle because I often doubt the very existence of God. 'How can you be sure, really sure, that you are not deluding yourself?' As Paul states: "If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men." (1 Corinthians 15:19, NIV)

I cannot see, yet I hope. Perhaps the being sure of this hope is a lifelong process. #soulfood


Monday, August 11, 2014

A psalm

My whole being cries out: Pain, Lord!
Pain, stop!
And  I weep afresh,
uncontrollably, engulfed by a larger pain.
I feel the pain in my brother's rage
I am the persecuted in Iraq
A mother who has lost her child

And so I sob
Welcoming the tears of release
Yet feeling utterly desolate:
There is no one to hear
But God.
And He is not enough right now.
And what of those that know Him not?
I cry again at this thought.
O God, O Lord!

Still, hope flickers.
His voice whispers:
One lone sheep to save
The endless joyous story

Amen



Blue. And existentially unimportant

But I know I (am supposed to) have the joy and that I can shoot down the second point with a dozen declarations from God in the Bible. 

Still... there always comes this time, when I start to doubt. Like now.

Long-held fears and anxieties. 

I'm boring, uncool, too serious to have fun with... No friends to really be with which makes me feel empty-sad.

And always this sense of futility- what am I doing with my life? 

To make things worse, my friends do not seem similarly afflicted. Okay, the chances are that people do feel the same way but we aren't connected so I still feel alone.

How I have prayed for a confidant to know me, apart from God Himself! Yet perhaps for this very reason the answer is no/wait.


Sunday, July 27, 2014

Guarding my heart

"Above all else, guard your heart, for it determines the course of your life." Proverbs 4:23, NLT

God tells us that how we allow people to move our hearts will influence our entire life. Discern well for it is no small matter, He says.

Found my heart stirred towards a really sweet-looking guy in camp. I don't know much about him but hearts don't really care about these things as we all know. 

"Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm." Song of Songs 8:6, NLT

A relationship grounded in biblical principles speaks of permanence. Do I seek this permanence or is it a self-aggrandizing desire? 

"His interests are divided. In the same way, a woman who is no longer married or has never been married can be devoted to the Lord and holy in body and spirit. But a married woman has to think about her earthly responsibilities and how to please her husband." 1 Corinthians 7:34, NLT

The simple fact that is a constant struggle for me is that God should be the first priority, as our Greatest Treasure. It goes against the grain in this world, for the world does not know nor seek God. 

What exactly do I want? That is, the I rooted in Christ. A dear colleague and brother who is happily married shared that his wife had a prayer list of items she wanted in her future husband. If it is to my Father's pleasure, may He give me:

1. A man after His own heart, like king David,
2. Someone passionate about making a difference; and
3. Cares about animals the way I do, or even more so.
4. Someone able to connect with me at a deep level; to understand the nuances of my speech and action,
5. Who is willing to commit time into resolving conflicts,
6. Who is able to lead me in the relationship while being open to direction.
7. To see my brokenness clearly but love me as Christ commanded,
8. Having a gentle and kind spirit.
9. Taller than me?  Has a nice smile and likes to show it;
10. Someone pleasant to look at and be with.

Ending off, I am reminded again that this time is the furthest I've went for someone I'm attracted to. Does it mean anything? Till I find out if he meets the requisite item 1~ Already crossed out the height criteria because of him :)