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A Mini Performance Review

Dear spiders living outside the house, I want a word with you. I thought we had an agreement: I don’t allow the cat to squash you and I don’t brush away your webs; you eat up all the mosquitoes, flies, and other assorted flying I-don’t-know-whats with wings.

How do you account for this then?

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It itches like the dickens, I tell you. And there’s more than one of these bites! Look, you’ll just have to take my word for it. No, I’m pretty sure you don’t “feel” me. You don’t have soft skin that welts up when bitten and itches like this!

Very uncool, guys. There are currently a couple that have even invaded the house!

Please step up and do your job. Eat the (blood)suckers! The mosquitoes are top priority. If you get those we can maybe, maybe let the other flying things slide.

Right? Right. Glad we had this talk.

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Dear Harry

Dear Harry

It’s been exactly one month and one day since I came home with you from visiting the vet and found you’d passed away on the journey back.

I had a pretty good day today: meditation workshop at the nice yoga studio where I did my AntiGravity Yoga teacher training; catching up for fellow classmates from AGY teacher training; lunch out in Midori, a Japanese restaurant out in Bintaro; good conversation over lunch about yoga and meditation and philosophy and quantum states.

I got errands run and gave small gifts of food and favours (and giving makes me happy). I even found the time and energy to go to the gym and make myself lightheaded on the elliptical.

And then I sat on the big flat beanbag on the floor (remember how you loved that beanbag?) and ate an entire can of tuna and watched TV and played music on Spotify and read while waiting for your papa to get home.

It was a nice day. Productive. Lots of positive experiences. I really enjoyed thinking and talking about how the discipline of breath meditation relates to learning to accept yourself as you are while working towards perfection, and how those seem to be mutually exclusive but don’t have to be. It was a mind- and heart-opening discussion, and I’m struck again by how what I’m reading (Yalom’s Schopenhauer Cure) is echoed in what’s happening in my life and mind.

And today I was blessed because there was very little traffic on the roads. Thank you for that gift, Jakarta!

As I was sitting there on the beanbag after my good day, I was reminded again that despite all the bad things that have happened this year—my accident, your passing, for one—and the multiple stressors I’m experiencing, I am basically and fundamentally quite happy at this point in my life. It’s not that things don’t go wrong. It’s not that I don’t get angry or upset or agitated. It’s that despite all these things I am, deep down, content.

But you know, I would have been that much happier if you’d been hanging out with me on the beanbag like in the past.

I still miss you and think of you every day. I miss your funny face. In the evenings when I go to switch the lamps on, I still expect to see your eager twitching nose going a dozen times a second and you periscoping madly as you wait for me to feed you. I miss your company especially late at night, and think of all those nights in the last year we hung out together on the carpet. You were a great companion.

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I miss you every day. I hope to see you again someday, at the other end of the Rainbow Bridge, with Rufus.

Love you,
Mama

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Echigoya Ramen

I’ve had a craving for decent ramen for the last couple of months, and I don’t know where in Jakarta to go to get some!

But we do live near-ish Blok M. The first time I was there, I noticed a string of lanterns proclaiming the area around Jalan Melawai 9 “Little Tokyo”, a standalone Japanese bakery, and lots of little izakaya-type places. (Also a bunch of karaoke bars and whatnot, but somehow I don’t think we’re their target market.) I’ve been in the area a couple of times, mostly to go to Papaya Fresh Gallery, but B’s never really had a chance to look around there.

So we washed up at Papaya Fresh Gallery round about 12.30, and started walking. Didn’t have to go far. Just at the other end of the block where Papaya’s located, we found Echigoya Ramen. The photos outside didn’t look terribly promising, and we debated whether to go in.

Echigoya Ramen

“Here, why don’t you poke your head in and see if there are tons of Japanese people inside?” I said to B. So he did. “I don’t know about Japanese people, but it’s full.” “Huh.” I stuck my head in; the place was indeed full. The bar counter was occupied and all the tables were taken. Lots of Japanese men having lunch, so that’s a good sign right? “Mmm. Let’s give it a go and see how it is.”

Bar counter at Echigoya Ramen
Since the place was full, we had to wait a while for a table. It didn’t take long though, maybe 5 minutes max, because one of the larger groups was just about done. We took our seats, and the waitress gave us our single-page menus.

Echigoya offers both chicken- and pork-based broths, and you can get shoyu or shio varieties. They also offer a whole range of additional ramen toppings: nori, wakame, negi, ajitsuke tamago, Japanese-style chasyu (that’s how they spell it), corn, butter, and various vegetables. There’s a small side-dish menu as well, and you can also order various rice bowls, so pretty much similar to most ramen bars.

A whole lotta condiments
Each table also has a raft of condiments: ninniku (garlic, minced, fried, and stored in oil), shoyu, shoyu for ramen (what’s the difference?), white pepper, chilli oil, vinegar, and the inevitable chilli sauce.

I settled on chasyu ramen, B picked the tonkotsu ramen, and we added ajitsuke tamago to both orders, with a side of gyoza for sharing. Sadly, they were sold out of pork gyoza, so we ordered the chicken gyoza instead.

Chicken gyoza
The gyoza arrived first, and it was pretty darn good. Crispy outside, juicy inside, and perfectly steam-fried. And for once, we could eat it almost immediately without burning our mouths. Don’t get me wrong, it was plenty hot, but it wasn’t scalding. Magic!

Chasyu ramen
My chasyu ramen was served with a generous handful of blanched beansprouts, negi, and wakame on top. I lost count of the number of slices of chashu, but I think there were maybe 5-6 slices.

The pork-based broth is relatively light, compared to what we’re used to in Singapore. It’s a nice balance though, not too oily or fatty, and still manages to pack in lots of flavour.

The char siew slices are also leaner and thinner than in most Singapore ramen bars. It’s a little on the dry side for my liking, but was actually counterbalanced by the fat in the soup. You know how sometimes you eat ramen and it’s beautifully rich and tasty, but after you’re done you feel a bit over-indulged? You won’t get that feeling here. You’ll be satisfied, but not sick.

Tonkotsu ramen
B’s tonkotsu looked similar to mine, but had a big spoonful of ninniku on top. The tonkotsu broth was a little thicker and more flavourful than my basic shoyu broth, but we agreed that it’s not as rich or milky as we’re used to eating back in Singapore.

Ajitsuke tamago — marinated soft-boiled eggs for ramen
The one thing I felt let down by though was the ajitsuke tamago. The taste was excellent, lightly salty, with a faint sweet aftertaste, but the egg itself was too set for my tastes. I like my ajitsuke tamago just set in both the white and yolk, but still quivering.

Good:
Echigoya makes its own ramen, apparently
They make their own ramen on site! The noodles are a lovely balance of bite and springy.
Seriously generous servings. The waitress asked us if we wanted a small or a large portion of ramen, and we both opted for small. I couldn’t finish my noodles, and the 6’2 husband found it just right. Bring an appetite!
The chefs gave us a bigass hajimemashite from behind the bar when we came in. Awesome.

Bad:
There’s no non-smoking section, and it’s a small place. There were people smoking at the next table.
The place has an open kitchen bar, with frying going on. So there’s a good chance you’re going to smell a little of food after you’re done. On the other hand, they must have pretty good ventilation, because the smells of frying and cigarette smoke didn’t bother me as much as it usually would.

The place had emptied out by the time we left

Echigoya is 7 out of 10, B says, and I’d concur. Best ramen I’ve had here yet, and we would totally go back! Next time, perhaps, we’ll try the curiously named ‘Stamina Ramen’…

Echigoya Ramen
Jl. Melawai 8 No. 2A
Jakarta Selatan 12160
Tel: (021) 739 5962

Opening Hours
Monday–Friday:
Lunch 1130–1400 (last order)
Dinner 1800–0100 (last order)

Saturday and Public Holidays:
Lunch 1130–1430 (last order)
Dinner 1700–2400 (last order)

Sunday:
Lunch 1130–1430 (last order)
Dinner 1700–2300 (last order)

Aside
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Yesterday, as I was hauling out laundry load number two, I kept hearing in my head, over and over, “Didn’t I just do this yesterday?” That’s been the hardest part of not working in the last year. People say, “Oh, isn’t it nice not to work? Isn’t it nice to relax and do lunch and go to yoga class and do only what you want?” But I don’t. All day, every day, I do things I don’t like and don’t want to do. I cook (okay, I like that part); I wash dishes; I scrub glass shower stalls and toilets and the bathtub; I empty out the Roomba; I mop the floors; I check pockets for change and sort laundry before putting it in the washer, and then when it’s done, I hang it out; I pay the bills and keep track of our finances; I keep the house stocked with milk and eggs and water and tomatoes and toilet paper and all the things we need to be fed and comfortable.

The thing that kills me about doing all these things, because, y’know, it’s not like I didn’t do all this and more when I was working full-time, is that it’s so bloody Sisyphean. So I do two loads of laundry in one day. Two days later the laundry basket is full, and I have to do it again. It feels like you never get done, and the little ping of satisfaction you get from accomplishing something doesn’t last long, because hello there it is again, that thing you just finished. It’s hard not to feel like you’re just drudging all day to no lasting effect.

I’ve never been good at boring routine. My idea of an ideal job is one in which you get enough routine to be comforting, but where the nature of the work changes up often, where you get to solve problems and complete things often, and produce tangible results and a sense of closure. That pretty much means that project-oriented work is perfect for me. You work hard, put in long hours, go like mad, and then at the end, you have something to show for all that crazy hard work. So working as a stage manager, or as a site producer, made me happy.

Oh yeah, and I also like getting paid.

On the one hand, I’m mildly obsessive about certain things, like crumbs on the kitchen countertop. I hate having dirty dishes in the sink at bedtime. On the other hand, honestly, I’m just lazy and don’t enjoy doing all this stuff. (They’re not called chores for no reason.)

I think I’m just not really cut out to be just a full-time housewife. I’ll do all the laundry and the washing and the whatever else, dammit, because I’m a grown-up and I can run a household just fine, but I need something else that isn’t housework.

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Lovebombs

From the corner of our bedroom, we get an almost-270° view of Jakarta. Rain dots the windows from the storm earlier. A discordant blanket of prayer fills the night. Tonight the city’s skyline is all fireworks; flashes of light, long streamers trailing through the air, precede candy starbursts everywhere you look. Some are silent, expending their energy in layer after layer of light travelling away from their core, into the sky. Others punctuate the muezzins joyfully. Some look like they’re just under my window; others are tiny novas of faraway galaxies. Red, gold, green, hot white, green and yellow, blue… In the distance, heat lightning flashes occasionally.

I took a few videos, and a few pictures, but I don’t have the patience to slowly figure out the difficulties of the shot, not tonight, when the fireworks are so exuberant. I can’t do it justice in a hurry. One building off to the right just released a brief orgy of sparks, 30 seconds of pure glee. So I’ll just wish you were here, the people I love, and sit back and enjoy the show. Eid Mubarak; Selamat Hari Raya.

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Mini-Project #1

One of my (self-assigned) jobs here is to make our home look nice. So, here’s Home Pretty-fication Project Numero Uno: mounting the wired control for the electric drying rack in our yard, without putting any holes in the walls. (Because the landlord said not to drill any holes. :()

Before
Obligatory Before pic

See how the control dangles from the loose cable? It swings sadly in the wind, and I’m always slightly afraid it’s going to snag when the dryer goes up or down.

Why not just use some 3M Command adhesive strips and tack it to the wall, you ask? Well, the control was meant to be mounted on the wall, replacing an existing wall plate, and has little bits of circuit board sticking out behind, so it’s not flat-backed. Boo. So I decided to do some creative jiggery-pokery.

Step 1

First I cut out two pieces of corrugated plastic to act as spacers, with about 1 cm allowance on all sides. You would not believe how hard it was to find foamcore board here. All I could find was luridly-painted Styrofoam boards — yuck. So corrugated plastic it was.

I emptied out the middle with a craft knife, and when that was annoyingly slow, my trusty Swiss army knife sturdily took care of the task. Then… and this part I’m particularly proud of: I cut out a routing groove for the cable. Go me! Craftsmanship, eh? It’s even cut so that the groove doesn’t go all the way through and completely destroy the structural integrity of the board. When the husband saw it later that evening, he said, “Will you come work for me? I could use that kind of forward thinking and attention to detail!”

Now to pull the spacers together. I didn’t want to buy glue just for this, so I used washi tape.
Step 2a
This was me trying to make it even…
Step 2b
Tape, tape… still trying to keep the tape even. Clearly I didn’t do a 100% job.
Step 2c
Done! A little uneven, but at least the pattern lines up on the corners, eh?

Step 3
Now I cover the thing in 3M Command adhesive tabs. 6 is overkill for something so light, with so little load, but you see, the cable routing groove means I can’t put a tab across it. So that meant two tabs on top, and because I’m neurotic like that, I needed two tabs on the bottom too, to balance it out. The smaller tabs are meant to hold the control on the spacer boards.

Step 4a
Here I’ve stuck the control through the hole. The wire will be tucked around the circuit board, ready to be routed up, through the groove in the spacer.

Step 5
Control mounted on the spacer board, and we’re going to stick it to the wall.

Step 5 completed
And done! Doesn’t it look disgustingly girly? I think I’ll be cutting off the excess from the adhesive tabs. You can’t really see them, but I know they’re there.

After
The After picture
Here’s what the entire contraption looks like now. I like this much better. The only thing left to do is to add a couple of tiny cable hooks to secure the wire to the wall, just to make it all look neat.

Man, uploading the photos and writing this post took waaaaay longer than actually designing and making this mini-project did.

I swear to god I used to have have a brain, and that I used to take on both professional and personal creative projects on a much larger scale. But doing this little thing pleased me today, and I’m hoping it’ll kick my butt into gear so I start on the million and one other projects I’d planned before moving here.

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Flying AirAsia out of Jakarta

The boarding lounge at Terminal 3 at Soekarno Hatta International Airport reminds me strongly of a Chiang Mai bus terminal I was in fifteen years ago, where I was with a group of other NUS students on a backpacking trip around northern Thailand. Flights seem to leave about every 15 minutes, though the same 2 gates*; there are announcements over the tannoy, random screens which may or may not show your flight info, and attendants walking around yelling “Last call, last call, Malaysia, Penang” (or whatever the next closing flight is).

It’s not bad, unless you’re super-sensitive, really. But it really is quite a different experience.

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Also, the boarding passes are incomprehensible. See how it says “Gate: Z4” and suggests I can begin boarding an hour before the flight?

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And then look — there’s Gate B, and next to it is Gate A. THERE IS NO GATE Z. Let alone Gate Z4. The first time I flew out of here, I was so confused, and super stressed that I’d miss my flight. When I asked about boarding time and location, I was told to sit, that I’d be called when it was my turn to board. Turns out the earliest they start boarding is 30 minutes before the flight. The gate sure as hell doesn’t close 20 minutes before, because 20 minutes before flight time, I’m still in line…

Case in point: my flight is scheduled for 18.45. They just opened boarding, at 18.15. To their credit, they do board really fast. A quick trot around the corner of the building, and across the tarmac, and I’m seated and belted in.

In general though, I’ve had pretty positive experiences with AirAsia otherwise. They do leave pretty much on time, offer decent ticket prices, and—this is important—on flights out of Indonesia at least, they sell prepackaged Chatime bubble tea on board.

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For that, I’ll forgive the weird boarding procedures that don’t match their paperwork. 😀 (Actually, I’ll probably forgive hell of a lot more too, but shhh.)

(Edit: they didn’t have any bubble tea on board this flight. I feel cheated!)