I was born and raised in Pontianak, one of the handful cities where Chinese community has thrived on as a minority group in the archipelago. It is a mid-sized city with humid temperature, steamy days all year long. In 2001, I left my hometown to study in another city and never looked back. This city had always looked rather sad for me.
The house where I stayed with my parents and two other siblings was located along a major street. It was a 3 story townhouse. My father ran a textile shop in the ground floor and we lived in the two floor spaces above it. I never really given it much thought but once I left the city I realize that I was never fond of living in the house. At first I thought I wanted a proper house with a garden, not a townhouse-for-business purpose where you never felt like having a privacy. But later I knew the house and the city never took my liking. The house lacked warmth of a family house while the city was not vibrant enough. It was just a place to get by day by day.
My parents met each other through some mutual friends. I never knew much about their relationship before they finally got married. My mom has refused to tell me much about it; I never discussed such a thing with my father. It was too awkward a conversation.
My parents are hard working couple and love saving. When I was young, we rarely ate out. My mom said it was because my dad forced us to live a frugal life. But later I realize it was because my mom cooks and bakes so well that no one wants to miss her cooking only to get some unhealthy mediocre food on a dining trip. My mom knew we all love her cooking and sometimes she would force us to admit that she cooks so well. But we never relent. We don’t want to rub her ego. We used to belittle her roles at home: saying all she did was cooking and baking. This was until she came down with a no-cooking strike as a protest when she was losing a fight with dad. My dad did not have the slightest idea of how to cook and we were still too young to take things into our strides. So my dad picked up some takeaway and served it on our table. We would initially love the idea of a takeaway to sample different kinds of food. But by the end of the week, we had enough and hopelessly yearned for mom’s homemade food. We silently hoped that my mom would finally give up her strike. Well, she finally did. (For your information: her longest strike was 2 weeks and it felt like it was really long).
We are spoilt brats when it comes to food. I have to blame my mom for this. She cooks so well that everything else tastes bad. I remember when a relative took us to a restaurant they claimed to be among the oldest and the best in Jakarta’s old city. I was excited. Then the food arrived and I knew that this was a typical homemade Chinese meal I had had since I was a baby. What’s the deal about it? Then my sister told me people in Jakarta hardly cook at home. They dine out a lot and homemade dishes become a fancy thing. Well this would mean that I had fancy meal almost all the time at home. I guess I had luck when it comes to gastronomical life. I wish my academic life would be as interesting as my culinary experiences. It was not.
I went to three different schools in the course of 18 years. They were just fine (if you know what I mean). I can’t remember enjoying it much. It was a far cry from any intellectual experience one should relish during their academic life. It was more of a slew of juvenile misbehaviour combined with some trashy romance. I was not part in either scene and so you can imagine how boring my teenage life was. All I did was studying. My favorite class was English. My favorite extra activity was Mandarin class. No sport, no music, no hanging out with friends. I spent weekends studying not because my parents told me to do so. I love studying, so much that my parent had to stop me once. I was reading out loud some mandarin essay to practice the language’s notoriously difficult tones. I didn’t know how long I had been reciting loudly when my father yelled at me from downstairs. It was night time and they wanted a good sleep. I kept my voice down and continued learning until wee hours.
When I finished my high school, I wanted to go to America. I thought it was where successful people go. This was not entirely a wrong idea should my dad could afford it. He couldn’t. I was devastated knowing that I wouldn’t be able to pursue my American dream. My dad offered me to go to Malaysia or Taiwan instead. I was not sure with the idea. As months ran down to weeks on university enrolment, I forced myself to make a decision. I picked a university in Yogyakarta, a small old town in Java. I convinced myself that this is only for temporary until I could find a way to go to the States. I never made it to the States. I finished my entire degree in the city.
When it comes to the decision of studying in Yogyakarta, I was still not sure whether I had made a right choice or not.