To Sleep is To Forget

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To sleep is to forget how we can’t share a beautiful view like this.

To forget the could-haves, would-haves, and what-ifs.

To forget the sound of your voice waking me up at 3 AM to catch my morning flight.

To forget the sound of your laugh after asking me a silly question. God, I miss your laugh.

To forget the disappointment you have caused.

To forget the miscarriage of hopes and expectations.

To forget that sinking feeling in my chest.

To sleep is to forget.

Pertama Kali Ambil IELTS

Setelah postingan Cara Dapet Skor TOEFL Tinggi Tanpa Les yang gue tulis 3 tahun lalu, kali ini setelah banyak request, gue mau nulis tentang IELTS! Jadi bulan Juli lalu gue pertama kali ambil IELTS.

Why?

Salah satu sekolah yang mau gue apply untuk S2 mensyaratkan IELTS, bukan TOEFL.

Seperti biasa, gue nggak les. Dalam rangka penghematan (hahaha) dan gue pede untuk IELTS nggak les (lain cerita untuk GRE yang gue les di Pascal). Piece of cake lah ya, dengan sombongnya gue pikirkan dalam benak gue. Gue nanya temen yang pernah IELTS dan TOEFL IBT katanya sih gampangan IELTS. Jadi gue agak ngentengin sih to be honest hahaha, apa karena suasana libur Lebaran juga ya, hmm entahlah. Gue ambil IELTS sengaja abis libur Lebaran biar libur Lebaran bisa gue pake buat belajar. Kerjaan gue cukup demanding, dari pagi jam 7 gue udah nangkring di kantor sampai malam jam 8, dan gak jarang juga pas weekend kerja juga, gak cuma di Jakarta tapi keluar kota/negeri, jadi libur seminggu itu bagai oasis di padang pasir. YES A WHOLE WEEK FOR ME! Berhubung gue gak suka liburan saat public holiday karena pasti rame pisan, what better way to use a week off than to study right?

Jadi kira-kira dua minggu sebelom tes gue daftar IELTS di IDP Pondok Indah karena deket rumah. Bayarnya 2,85 juta (mahal cyin), dan gue dapet tes di Hotel Mercure TB Simatupang. Oh iya, a little note, I wasn’t aware of this when I registered there, ternyata ambil IELTS di sana cukup rempong. Untuk semua section selain Speaking dilakukan di venue Hotel Mercure, sementara untuk Speaking dilakukan di kantor IDP Pondok Indah yang di Margaguna Raya (di ruko-ruko depannya pom bensin deket PIM 1 itu). Jujur gue baru tau itu pas ditelfon petugas sebelum tes dan sempet complain juga. Karena dalam bayangan gue, dalam suasana tes kan, si peserta psychologically harus dalam keadaan tenang. Kalau harus pake pindah tempat, iya gue tau dari segi jarak dekat, tapi dari TB Simatupang itu kan lalu lintasnya padat, ya itu menambah stress juga (tidak disediakan shuttle). Terus giliran Speaking itu baru ketauan pas kita tes, di hari-H. Gue dapet giliran pertama jam 12 siang hahaha ya bagus sih, gak harus digantungin sampe sore. Tapi jadinya kelar tes yang Listening, Reading, Writing jam 11.45-an gue langsung fast and furious ke tempat tes Speaking (yang ternyata sampai sana juga nungguin panitianya tiba dari Mercure ke IDP). I think this is an important thing to consider sih, kalau gue retake, honestly, under these circumstances, akan gue pertimbangkan opsi lain yang semua section sudah secure di bawah satu atap.

Okay let’s move to independent preparation. Sama kayak TOEFL, bagi gue, buku yang cocok itu bobotnya gede banget  untuk menentukan tesnya berhasil atau nggak. Apa buku yang gue pake?

How to Master the IELTS

BUKU INI ENAK BANGET DIPAKE!

Kenapa?

Berhubung gue gak les, ya sumber terpercaya gue yang bisa nge-guide ke jalan yang benar adalah kunci jawaban! Kunci jawaban yang gak sekedar huruf jawaban tapi lengkap dengan penjelasan. This book has that, so that brings me to the conclusion that this book is awesome.

Gue menerapkan trik yang kayak toefl: latian soal terus. Tapi dalam persiapan karena suasana liburan gue sempet mood-moodan juga, jadi belajarnya sebenernya kalo diitung-itung efektifnya cuma 8-10 jam kali ya kalau diakumulasikan. Latian soal reading, latian soal listening, sama nontonin video speaking sambil fitness. Gue gak latian writing sama sekali…………which turned out to have an impact on my results. Pas hari H, esai Writing Task 2 gue gak kelar, karena salah strategi pembagian waktu (padahal di awal pengawasanya udah bilang, porsi Writing Task 2, bikin esai dengan topik, lebih gede dari Writing Task 1, ceritain isi tabel/chart/grafik tapi dalam eksekusi seperti biasa, sisi perfeksionis gue merasa WT 1-nya kurang lengkap dan gue terlalu focused on making the essay sophisticated dengan kalimat beranak pinak dan kata-kata advanced). Alhasil di Writing Task 2, gue udah sampe paragraf kesimpulan, udah memasuki kalimat kedua, eh waktunya abis. Daripada gue kehitung curang dan hasil gue gak keluar karena gue masih nulis padahal waktunya udah abis, yowis… Aku relakan!

Selebihnya untuk reading, listening, dan speaking relatively mudah sih. Kalau udah ngerasain TOEFL IBT, I bet you’ll say the same. Di IELTS gak ada section yang integrated: listening, reading, writing. Most answers are given, paling yang tricky adalah penyamaan persepsi kita dan pembuat soal. That takes practice. Untuk Listening yang tricky adalah mendengarkan logat British/Aussienya. Terus speakernya itu 1 buat rame-rame di ruangan, bukan di headset. Jadi harus fokus ekstra sih.

Speaking sih, cincailah. Banyak nonton YouTube dan santai aja. Gue pas speaking, ya kurang latian juga, jadinya gue inget banyak ‘umm’ dan ‘like’ (yeah that made me sound like a high school teenager). Oh iya, speaking di IELTS itu kan sama orang beneran ya, unlike TOEFL IBT yang kita ngomong di headset. Bagi gue sih enakan sama komputer hahaha, tapi dari segi substansi jauh lebih mudah speaking IELTS. Kayak ngobrol sama temen aja gitu. Gue pas Speaking dapet topik tentang pengalaman di kala orang lain minta maaf sama kita. EAAAAK. Speakingnya curhat. Mosok ceritain mantan, nanti keluar tes mewek-mewek pulak ye kan. Jadi ya gue karang-karang aja cerita yang acceptable untuk konteks tes dan punya ruang untuk improvisasi dan menggunakan kata-kata sophisticated.

Jadi berapa skor tes IELTS gue?

Dengan persiapan satu minggu (yang efektifnya 8-10 jam) tanpa les, gue mendapat overall band score 8.5.

Dengan rincian yang bisa dilihat di gambar di bawah. Gue gengges sama skor Writing yang 7.0 (sementara salah satu sekolah yang gue targetkan minta 7.5 di semua section….so I do have to retake the IELTS, syedih gan). But overall, gue cukup senang dengan hasil gue, cukup senang tapi belum puas.

Skor IELTS Monica

Skor IELTS Monica: Overall band score 8.5 (tapi writingnya bikin gengges, cuma 7 karena esai gue ga kelar)

Jadi sekian sharing pengalaman IELTS perdana gue, jangan malu atau ragu untuk bertanya-tanya (semoga gue bisa jawab juga haha).

On the Repit Hot Brush

After years of having long hair and holding on to the belief that it suits me best, I have finally cut my hair shorter than its usual length. After the chop came another challenge: making it look good everyday. That’s the role Repit’s hot brush plays in my life now.

It all began after meeting up with my best friend when he told me how I needed a new hairstyle. After doing a little research and noticing how going from long to short is currently the hottest hair trend, I did it! I went to my favorite hair stylist, Om Thio from my go-to salon, Irwan Team in Bintaro, and he did his magic. Voila!

After a few days of adjusting to my new hair, I discovered that my hair length didn’t go very well with my naturally wavy hair. That’s a thing I love about having long hair, at least I’ve always thought long hair requires less maintenance. That’s when I decided that I need to learn how to style my hair, but with a routine that’s quick and easy.

I went to the mall and walked directly to the hairstyling tools section. I did a little research on Youtube and I had a few brands in mind, but honestly Repit wasn’t one of them. I chatted with the store attendant and she recommended me the Repit brush. The store had 2 kinds: the 2 in 1 flat iron and brush and the hot brush. I never use flat irons because I’ve always thought that they make my hair look flat, so I ditched the 2-in-1 brush and opted for the hot brush instead. I chose the 32mm hot brush because I like large curls instead of small ones. The store attendant told me it was all the rage with beauty bloggers writing reviews on it like Andra Alodita and Lizzie Parra (of course I didn’t know that because I don’t read their blogs regularly). So while the store attendant performed trial runs on my hair, I read how positive the reviews were and boom! I walked out of the store with a Repit hot brush in my shopping bag. It cost me IDR 1.9 million (about 143 USD).

So here are some photos to give you a picture of the steps of my (now) daily hair routine.

The steps

After washing my hair using Peter Thomas Roth Mega-Rich Shampoo, I spray heat protection product on my damp, towel dried hair. The product I use is Tresemme Keratin Smooth Flat Iron Smoothing Spray. The last thing I need is my hair to be damaged due to my new routine.

After spraying the product, I blow dry my hair until it’s dry (photo on the top left). The store attendant told me that for best results using the Repit Hot Brush is using it on dry hair, and I tried using it on 50% dry hair and the results weren’t as great. Once my hair is dry, I run my fingers through my hair and comb it (photo on the top right, before combing).

This is when the Repit hair brush comes in. If you watch videos you’ll see ladies dividing their hair into sections and clipping them. Well, I guess I’m just too lazy or in too much of a hurry to do that, so I dive right in, rolling a section at a time (photo on the bottom left). I usually start with the bottom of my hair and roll it inwards. For volume, I do the upper part of my hair last. The Repit hot brush has four temperature settings, all in degrees Celsius: 130, 150, 170, and 190. For maximum staying power, use the highest temperature. I never use the highest temperature because I’m still not comfortable using it that hot, so 150 and 170 is enough for me. Besides, my hair is already soft and the strands are thin, so experience shows that those temperatures prove to be sufficient.

So let me weigh in the pros and cons of the Repit hot brush.

Pros:
  • It saves you a lot of time. It only takes 2 minutes to heat. No need to go to the salon for a blow out!
  • It’s very easy to use. You are in full control of the movement of the brush.
  • The bristles are not heat conductors, so you can actually touch them when you use the brush.
Cons:
  • Honestly, it is pricey for a brush, right? But don’t worry, many stores have 0% credit card installment programs.
  • For a frequent traveller like myself, it doesn’t come in a travel friendly size. It’s pretty big to put in a suitcase/travel bag.

But all in all, it’s 4.5 of 5 to me (the non-travel friendly size was a significant let down). So after using the brush in all parts of my hair, voila!

Repit Review Monicantik_2

Not bad, right?

Untuk Kamu yang Aku Tinggal dengan Diam-Diam

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Matthias Church, Budapest, 2015

It’s strange how a song,  a scent, a face of a stranger, or a nuance can sound an alarm in your brain to revisit a certain memory. It reminds of you of an occurrence you have kept hidden for a while, tucked under layers of distractions. In my case it’s the following lyrics of a new single released by one of my favorite Indonesian musicians: “Izinkan aku pergi dulu, yang berubah hanya tak lagi ku milikmu.” Listening to the whole song from start to finish, it’s obvious how I’d strongly relate to it. And you, kamu yang aku tinggal dengan diam-diam, mungkin merasa hal yang sama ketika mendengar lagu itu, meski dengan perspektif berbeda, di lagu itu aku menjadi aku, dan kamu menjadi kau. Ironically, though this memory was evoked by this song, Pamit which literally translates to saying goodbye, that is exactly what I didn’t do. Aku tinggalkan kamu dengan diam-diam, which happens to be the exact opposite of pamit.

“Sudah coba berbagai cara agar kita tetap bersama.
Yang tersisa dari kisah ini hanya kau takut kuhilang.
Perdebatan apapun menuju kata pisah.” – Tulus 

Our bond was like cancerous cells, spreading to all parts of the body. Leaving it weak and in pain. It made me grow bitter instead of grow better. It was a gas chamber and I was gasping for air.

Respect yourself enough to walk away from anything that no longer serves you, grows you, or makes you happy.

I did what was necessary.

Untuk kamu yang aku tinggal dengan diam-diam, what I did was an attempt to save myself. Bear in mind that we, both you and I, deserve to be happy. Why hold on to something that is not worth holding on to?

So you may or may not be reading this, forgive me for saying goodbye this way. Forgive me for vanishing and keeping silent all this time, leaving you wondering what you did wrong (and if you’re still wondering, well..I don’t know what else to say). Well honey, you did me wrong. Big time. But I’m not writing this to rant on how much you hurt me and the permanent scars I have because of you. We have had enough fights that ended in tears and bitterness.

So, I am writing this as an effort to detach, to let go. I am writing this as a part of my struggle to forgive you. I am writing this to confront that struggle. To confront that it is not something that happens over night. Has it been weeks? Months? Nonetheless, I owe it to myself to do so.

We met for a reason, either you’re a blessing or a lesson.

Between those two, I guess it’s pretty clear which fits our scenario. I hope life treats you kind. You will always be in my prayers.

On Being a Girl With a Guy Best Friend

A guy and a girl can be best friends without falling for each other. But that does not mean that feelings won’t surface, they can and they probably will. If they don’t good, but if they do…well it’s entirely your choice on how to react to it and which you want to save: your feelings or the friendship.

new girl

But first let me start with the perks of being a girl with a guy best friend:

1. He can help you decode things guy say.

A guy best friend can be really handy when you don’t know how to respond the potential SO, especially if you’re clueless about guys. Guy A texted me this, what am I supposed to say, or Guy B only asks me out every few weeks, should I text him first, and the list goes on. This works the other way around too, if he wants to decode what girls say, you better be ready to decipher all of that.

2. You’ll always have a wingman for situations that require having a wingman.

Being his plus one to a wedding or a function is something you gotta be prepared for, and vice versa. Even if it’s just casual like trying out that new gelato shop, or seeing that new movie, he’ll be the wingman.

3. You always have a buddy to share everything, from the good to the ugly.

From ugly revisits to bad memories with your ex-boyfriend, to sharing dirty jokes, to funny obese Disney Princess cartoons,  and serious career or educational topics, he’s always on the other line. It even feels weird that a day goes by without texting each other.

4. He’s ready to give you pragmatic feedback you need but don’t want to hear.

He’s a guy. Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus right? There’s no sugar coating. Everything is served raw and practical. He’s gonna be the one who’s gonna tell you that you need to work out or watch what you eat. You tell each other that because no feelings would be hurt.

Those are the perks. What are the things that can be tricky? Dodging the ‘Are you dating?’ or occasional teasing/assumptions made by your friends/family. Your cousin thinks you’re dating, his mother thinks you’re dating. You have to be careful to not give the impression that you’re dating, but at the same time you spend a lot of time together. So..yes that can be tricky.

Oh and like I mentioned at the top, it is possible for feelings to surface. But since you’re best friends, you can talk about it, and it’s up to you, if you both want to transform it into a relationship and it may work, well why not. But if it doesn’t look that it will be successful, and you want to save the friendship instead, well just acknowledge the elephant in the room, let the feelings fade away, and be best friends again! In my case, we talked about feelings in retrospect, so we quickly brushed them off.  The reality is,  just because he’s your guy best friend, it does not necessary mean he is SO material. If you’re a sensitive and naturally caring person like me, you have to constantly remind yourself not to be carried away by the comfort of the friendship.

Him: There was a time I was attracted to you.
Me: Hahahahaa

A few moments later..

Me: Wait why?
Him: I think it’s a combination of your curves, wide knowledge, nice accent, and friendly trait.
Me: Guess what. there was a time I was attracted to you once as well. But…well I didn’t want to mess things up.
Him: What…..what if it was at the same time.
Me: Haha no I don’t think so.

So to sum up, having a guy best friend is a great thing that I cherish in my life! I also cherish my female best friends, there are gaps that can only be filled by being best friends with a girl. A thing to remember is that, it doesn’t work for everyone, maintaining one requires self control, but at the end of the day if you fight the good fight, you may reap the results.

My Daily Makeup Routine

Gue sehari-hari make makeup, bukan tipe yang polosan gitu kemana-mana. Apa aja produk yang gue pakai sehari-hari? Kurang lebih kayak di bawah:

My day to day makeup kit!

My day to day makeup kit!

Pertama: Muka

Buat muka tricky: minyakan, pori-pori besar, dan bekas jerawat (dan rawan jerawatan) harus ekstra hati-hati milih makeup buat muka. Harus oil free tentunya, kalau aman untuk kulit sensitif lebih bagus lagi. Untuk sehari-hari gue gak suka terlalu berat pakai foundation. Begitu abis mandi dan cuci muka, gue pakai Avene Cleanance Expert Emulsion. Gue beli ini di Changi abis business trip, waktu itu dirayu Mbak-Mbaknya bisa ngurangin merah-merah jerawat dan pori-pori tersamarkan. Setelah gue coba bener loh, jerawat juga pada kempes dalam 1-2 hari. Dipakainya pagi dan malam. Nah setelah pakai itu, gue timpa lagi dengan Sunblock dari dr. Rani (not pictured). Nah gue diemin beberapa menit sambil pakai baju, dan siap-siap yang lain. Nah abis itu, gue pake Benefit Porefessional, dan dilanjutin sama NYX Pore Filler. Ini buat menyamarkan bekas jerawat dan pori-pori membesar. Benefit Porefessional ini sebenernya agak pricey ya (bulan Februari ’16 gue beli 850 ribu) ketimbang NYX Pore Filler, tapi tahan lama banget! Gue beli Maret 2014, masih ada sampai sekarang, cengli ye. Nah abis pakai primer, gue biasanya pakai bedak tabur dari dr. Rani (again, not pictured). Gue sehari-hari gak make blush on karena…takut keliatan menor sih dan pipi gue kadang udah pink aja gitu aneh emang.

Kedua: Mata

Alis!! Gue udah make alis sebelom alis Nike ngehits sekarang-sekarang ini. Haha. Gue pernah bereksperimen pake Elf/Anastasia dan tetep aja enakan pake yang pensil/krayon gitu. Karena udah biasa sehari-hari ngalis, kalo gue gak ngalis keliatan beda banget kalo kata orang-orang~ Nah abis ngalis, gue lanjut ke make eyeshadow, dengan terlebih dahulu memakai Eyeshadow Primer NYX. Waktu itu pas lagi di Centro sama Mbak-Mbaknya ditunjukin bedanya make primer sama gak make primer, dan ternyata signifikan loh, kalo make primer warnanya lebih ‘keluar’. Abis pake primer, make eyeshadow, biasanya gak pake teknik smokey eye atau semacemnya. Gue pilih aja satu warna, biasanya coklat aja. Lagipula gue gak selalu pakai eyeshadow (kadang mager), kadang diskip langsung ke eyeliner aja. Gue udah bereksperimen pake eyeliner: Stila, Benefit, Revlon dan tetep aja semuanya beleber! Yang tahan dan heavy duty buat kelopak gue yang berminyak hanya eyeliner MAC. Sehari-hari biasanya gue cat eye aja, tapi gak lebay, enough to make my eyes pop. Nah step selanjutnya juga optional, yaitu Mascara! Karena gue pakai kacamata, gue kadang merasa make maskara dan nggak make gak terlalu keliatan bedanya. Tapi kalo lagi pengen make mascara, gue pake, dengan menjepit bulu mata terlebih dahulu~ Bagi gue, Mascara yang heavy duty dan tidak (cepet) beleber adalah Bobbi Brown No Smudge Mascara. Tapi kalo gue makenya hari kerja yang panjang, apalagi perjalanan dinas dengan ketiduran di pesawat, suka beleber. Yak gue masih mencari maskara yang (semakin) heavy duty. Dannn sebenernya gue lebih suka lash extensions sih daripada make mascara, tapi susah nyari waktu buat lash extensions haha.

((UPDATE SEDIKIT ~ GUE ABIS LASH EXTENSIONS LOH))

Jadi Jumat tanggal 19 Februari kemaren gue nyempetin diri pulang kantor buat lash extensions di langganan gue buat hair removal, Tokyo Beauty Laboratory di Epicentrum. Lagi ada promo juga, diskon 20% dari harga normal 400 ribu untuk 80 helai, jadi 320 ribu. Kan mayan ye. Kira-kira begini hasilnya:

After getting lash extensions~

After getting lash extensions~

Gue seneng make lash extensions karena sampai sekarang gue gak bisa-bisa masang bulmat palsu. Udah gitu, jadi simpel, gue gak usah pake mascara/eyeliner lagi buat bikin mata pop out😉 Yah bisa sih kalo mau, tapi bagi gue begini saja sudah cukup hehehe.

Ketiga: Bibir

Dengan bibir yang cenderung kering, gue harus hati-hati milih produk bibir. Setelah bereksperimen, yang cocok banget sejauh ini lipstick Bobbi Brown (shade: Rose) sama Girlactik (Allure dan Flirtatious). Kalau Bobbi Brown rasanya lebih melembabkan ketimbang Girlactik. Jadi kalau gue merasa bibir gue rada kering, gue makenya Bobbi Brown. On the other hand untuk tahan lama, Girlacktick juara banget, plus dia tidak membuat kering, tapi tidak membuat lembab juga sih. Gue udah nyoba NYX SMLC gak cocok dan bikin kering, dan Bourjouis yang Rouge Velvet baunya aneh banget gak tahan! Jadi untuk beberapa bulan terakhir Bobbi Brown dan Girlactik merupakan pilihan utama gue untuk urusan perbibiran.

Jadi sekian rutin makeup gue…simpel kaaan, gue juga sudah semakin mahir makeup-an di mobil, tentu dengan memanfaatkan macet dan lampu merah haha. Tentu saja setelah makeupan, buat memaintain makeup di muka, senjata utama gue melawan minyak adalah Face Paper. Waktu itu pas lagi liat-liat di Guardian, gue lihat Face Paper Clean and Clear diskon jadi setengah harga. Alhasil gue borong sampe abis. Kapan lagi Face Paper yang biasanya 26-28 ribu jadi 14 ribu perak haha. Punya problem skin memang tricky untuk nyari makeup yang pas, gak bikin jerawatan, dan gak beleber.  Semoga post gue membantu membypass trial and error kalian yaa~

Before Makeup - After Makeup

Before Makeup – After Makeup

Falling Asleep Without Trying

A pic I took when I couldn't sleep

A pic I took last month  when I couldn’t sleep. I have a bad habit of leaving the TV on all night when I’m sleeping alone in a hotel room. Sorry energy police.

Don’t you love it when you lay down and then the next thing you know you open your eyes, you’re delirious, not knowing what time it is. You check your phone and your memory comes back to you. It’s 4:32 AM, it’s a Saturday and congratulations, you managed to get some sleep without even trying! Perhaps it’s the adult version of when you were a kid and watching TV in the living room, and the next thing you know you open your eyes and you’re in bed. You wonder how you got there, the last thing you remember is watching a scene in that weird TV show that you thought would be good.

So how did you fall asleep without trying? Maybe it’s the strenuous work these past days, or is it the emotional baggage you carry around with you everywhere? Or maybe the glasses of wine you had at dinner? Or the flu pills you took earlier because of the cold you caught from the chilly air in the plane? Or the anxiety you carry around about work, about the future? Or is it the past haunting you? The dark memories that you visit from time to time that still bring tears to your eyes. The wounds that haven’t healed? Like when you were a kid, when you got a scab and had to cover it with a band aid, you couldn’t help taking a peek now and then to check if it’s covered with new skin or not.

Whatever it is, for whatever reason, it feels so nice to fall asleep without trying. To drift off, without letting your mind be carried away with thoughts. To sleep for 6-7 hours straight, without waking up every 2 hours for no reason.

Reminiscing Christmas

monicantik - christmas tree

Back when I was a kid, we didn’t even have a Christmas tree, let alone presents. I don’t recall tree trimming, cookie baking, or gingerbread house making when I was a child. Using the resources I had, I cut out Christmas pictures that I found from old magazines and sticked them on our windows. For ‘presents’ I wrapped whatever toys I had so it looked like Christmas presents. I remember wrapping our Scrabble game box and putting it near our heater. On Christmas day I’d open them and pretend they were Christmas presents. When I was little, my little brother’s godparent’s family would invite us over for Christmas dinner. My little brother’s godfather’s father was Indonesian and their whole family would invite us over on every major holiday like Christmas, Easter, and Children’s day (they religiously celebrate Children’s day, isn’t it cute?). They treated us as if we were family by blood and gave us presents. I remember Grandma asking me, “Monica, what did Santa get you for Christmas?” and I answered, “Nothing, Grandma. We don’t have a chimney.” Everyone laughed. It’s a fond memory of Christmas that makes me smile every time it crosses my mind.

Thirteen years later, in a different continent and climate, it’s Christmas Eve, and I haven’t finished my Christmas shopping. It kinda feels weird to actually go Christmas shopping because getting Christmas presents was never a tradition in my family. But we have Christmas trees now in the house so I guess that’s good progress. My mother, strictly enforcing meritocracy, would only get us something if our grades were good. And being the practical person she is, instead of taking the time to pick out something for her children, she simply takes us out to the mall and pick our own ‘present’. I don’t think it’s even a Christmas present, it was more like an end-of-semester prize. She didn’t even wrap them! Well on a positive note, she made sure we got exactly what we wanted. But on the other hand, there was no element of surprise of unwrapping presents. So this year I decided to get something for everyone in the family. If I couldn’t experience the surprise and excitement of unwrapping presents, I might as well give that experience to the people I love most.

These past few days I’ve been getting the same question: “Monica, aren’t you gonna take a few days off? Where are you gonna spend Christmas?” This year is quite special because Christmas is on a Friday, and coincidentally Christmas Eve is on a national holiday because it’s the same day as Maulid Nabi (a Moslem holiday). So basically, taking the other 3 work days off was a favorable option. But I didn’t take that option since my family and I never go out on the holidays. While other Batak people usually return to their homelands in North Sumatera, our family usually celebrates Christmas in Jakarta because most of our family already resides here. The thought of celebrating a quiet and peaceful Christmas else where crossed my mind, but well, maybe next time.

Our other Christmas tree!

Our other Christmas tree!

I wish you all a joyful and meaningful Christmas and wonderful holiday season! Stay safe, happy, and healthy everyone!

Are You Okay?

“Are you okay?” the nun asked me with a concerned look in her eyes. There I was sitting silently on a wooden stool, naked and cold under the robe the nun gave me, my lips quivering and tears running down my cheeks as I waited for my turn to be dipped in the famous miraculous water of Lourdes.

IMG_1543

It was more overwhelming than I had ever expected.  Actually to be honest I did not know about this ritual in the first place (thanks to my lack of research prior to the trip). Furthermore, I did not expect the ritual to be so…emotional. My heart (and my head) was flooded with thoughts and emotions: gratitude, sadness, ‘am I really in Lourdes right now?’ , ‘what am I supposed to pray before they dip my body in the water?’, ‘why is God so good after the messy stuff that has happened these recent years’, ‘what is a sinner like me doing here in one of the most cherished destinations by Catholics all over the world?’, and on and on.

Don’t get me wrong, I felt very fortunate to be there in the most surprising and delightful way ever. But who knew a fortunate moment like that would be such a reflective moment. I can’t really claim to be a religious person. Sometimes I hardly pray, let alone read the bible. I don’t participate in church activities other than attending Mass every week (and there were times I did not go to mass for lame reasons). It was overwhelming to actually realize the blessings and unconditional love, despite the countless times I have failed God (which reminds me about a quote I love dearly: I can’t brag about my love for God for I fail him daily, but I can brag about His love for me because it never fails). It was all too much to bear, and before I knew it my eyes became watery. It was kind of embarrassing to cry in front of all the other ladies who were also waiting to be bathed since we were all seated in a tiny chamber, the same place we took off our clothes but I couldn’t stand it. Thank God it was a silent cry, not the sobbing type. But it was still noticeable, thus triggering concern from the nuns who were close to me.

After calming my self down and giving a quick nod to the Nuns that were starting to get concerned from the look on their faces. They kept asking me if I was okay. Explaining to them why wasn’t exactly what I had in mind so I just gave them a forced smile. When it was finally my turn I stood up, the curtains were opened and I took a few steps down toward the tub. It was a tiny marble tub, kind of like a little rectangle shaped pool enough for an average height adult body to fully submerge from head to toe. There were 2 nuns assisting on my left and on my right, holding me to stay on my feet and guided me in to the water. The water was bloody cold. Like super icy cold. I was pretty much chanting ‘This is so cold‘ in my mind. The senior nun, said a prayer, and I responded. I quickly prayed the Hail Mary but then my mind went blank and I just imagined Mother Mary, and mentioned a quick prayer for my brother regarding his uni admissions. I forgot all my intentions about my parents, my family/friends, or my future, my career, and finding Mr. Right (allow me to shamelessly admit that this was one of my intentions on the pilgrimage). All the things that I was supposed to pray for before the dip just vanished as I was just trying to wrap my mind around this overwhelming moment. And then whoosh, I was dipped about neck deep in the water. It was icy cold, but it was so fresh. After a few seconds, the young nuns on my side gently pulled me out and guided me out of the water. I gave the senior nun a sincere smile and thank you. She gave me a warm wish on my way out.

Earlier before the ritual, I felt silly for not preparing very well for I did not bring a towel. But then I was told, I wouldn’t need one. The water will dry instantly, in a matter of seconds. It was true. The distance from the tub to my wooden stool where my clothes were kept was just a few footsteps. When I started to put my clothes back on, my body was dry. The nuns who were concerned about me earlier made sure if I was okay. I finally had the courage to look them in the eye and thankfully gave them an eager nod saying yes and thank you. It was all so bizarre, and yet so invigorating, both to the body and the soul. Afterwards I felt a sense of peace and amazement.

The ritual was strange and unique. To start with, it was a bit startling to be instructed to strip naked in a chamber with around 5 other pilgrims, with a nun holding a robe around my body to cover me as I took off all my clothes, undergarments and accessories. Once I was naked and awkwardly signaling the nun, the robe was swiftly wrapped around my body, kind of like a baby wrapped in a bundle. Being guided, and being immersed in such cold water just made the experience feel very vulnerable. I think that’s what made it feel so overwhelming. Not only were our bodies naked in the process, but it also felt like admitting and showing all our sins, dark secrets, and flaws. All those dark spots that were neatly hidden in the dusty corners of our minds and souls felt as if they were exposed. I guess that was what made it such a moving experience. The bathing ritual was a moment of vulnerability – both physical and psychological. No wonder this ritual is linked to the Sacrament of Confession. It’s too bad that I did not make the time to go to Confession during my trip, but the bathing ritual alone left such a deep impression. I do hope to return and bring my parents there someday. Ave Maria, our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us. Amen.

Paris & Vienna: My First Business Trip Abroad

Well hello there! I sure haven’t written in a while. I’ve come up with random things to write, or a catchy title but those ideas can’t seem to compete with my fatigue and sleepiness as a result from the work load I’ve been enduring these past few months.

Last week I was very fortunate to have the chance to go on my first business trip abroad. By the grace of God, my superior(s) selected me as one of the delegates of the Ministry of Energy & Mineral Resources for the World Gas Conference 2015 in Paris (WGC Paris 2015). The news came in by surprise because at that time work was a feeding frenzy of deadlines and PowerPoint slides. I mean I didn’t expect a (relatively) new hire like me to accept such an assignment. So these past few months I have been busy at work assisting the Director General (then acting, and since early May was officially appointed) so most of the day I’m either at the DG’s floor (the 16th floor), out and about tagging along to assist in meetings or other work related events, instead of my original cubicle floor (the 6th floor).

About 3 weeks ago, a very close coworker of mine texted me to come down to the 6th floor, because there was something urgent that required my attention. Coincidentally I was on my way downstairs from the 16th loor because I had something to fetch from my cubicle. Well, it turns out that my superiors had news to break to me: I was assigned to go to Paris for the World Gas Conference 2015. The first reaction that popped in my mind was a mix of “Kyaaa!!” , “Wait, what?”, “Did I hear that correctly?”,  and “Hold up, did you just say, Paris?” But, well, being the calm and reserved person I am (or had to be at that time, jumping and squealing is totally inappropriate), I kept my cool and solemnly nodded my head and said “Okay, Sir.” as my boss explained the steps I should complete due to the mild complexity of the bureaucratic procedure of international business trips.

Well to start things off, at that time I did not have a service passport. If you’re wondering what a service passport is, well it’s a passport exclusively designed and made for government officials. It’s blue, different from regular passports that are green.

paspor biru

The thing with service passports is, you can’t really apply for one unless you have an official and written reason to go abroad. My mom once told me, months before to quickly apply to make a service passport so I’d have one handy in case I get assigned abroad, but well I can’t without an official invitation or letter that bluntly states my name being assigned for an international business trip. So yeah, at that time I only had about 2 weeks to get everything done, and it was kind of a gambling situation. Luckily, France requires no visa for service passports, so there was still a chance to get all the administration done on time, or at least really really close before I depart. And luckily, again by the grace of God, it was done on time. I received my passport and my exit permit 10 hours before departing. You just have to know how nervous yet numb I was then.

The golden rule I’ve learned over the first year of working in the public sector is to really manage your expectations. Actually it’s best to nullify any expectations you have. Yup, zero expectations is the best way to survive around here. And I’ve heard it over and over again especially during my passport application process. There were real cases of my office seniors applying for visas/exit permits/passport extensions that ended up in failure and they ended up not going. It was bureaucracy, and bureaucracy isn’t exactly science or a natural phenomena with predictable parameters that can be calculated with formulas. There were many x-factors that can turn out to be huge hinderances. So I did my part, submit the requirements, and pray. Pray that the person in charge of signing the documents isn’t out of town or isn’t too busy to sign them on time. Pray that the person in charge of passport application is healthy and in a good mood. Well I guess praying indicates a glimmer of expectation or hope I had, but frankly I couldn’t help it. I’m young, new, and still very excited about this kind of thing. So I ended up surrendering it to God, if the assignment was meant to be mine, it will be, if not, so be it, at least I’ve done my part. And besides, I had other things that required my attention so worrying about the documents was a waste of energy. And unlike previous trips abroad that had me excited weeks before departing, frankly I wasn’t as excited at all. I guess I was really exercising the ‘No expectations.‘ rule. Haha.

So finally the day of departure came. It was sort of dreadful because I was left hanging with no passport in hand on the day of departure. But after some gruesome hours of waiting in vain, the passport was done and I could finally say: I’m going to Paris. I finished my packing and last minute preparations and off I went. I flew with Garuda Airlines and it sure added a lot of miles to my Garuda Frequent Flyer card, though I ended up still being a silver and 7095 miles away from being upgraded to Gold haha. The flight was about 16 hours in total: 14 hours 20 minutes from Jakarta to Amsterdam and a little over an hour from Amsterdam to Paris, with a short layover in Amsterdam. On the flight to Amsterdam I watched Before Sunrise (one of my favorite movies) and I realized that the movie was shot in Vienna, and Celine was on her way to Paris. What a coincidence haha. After the long flight and desperation to take a shower, finally: Paris! It was my first time to Europe, I’ve never been to Europe before. So it was exciting, especially when my eager eyes spotted the Eiffel tower for the very first time, even from a very far distance. My heart jumped and I squealed with glee. All this time I’ve only seen the Eiffel Tower on Tumblr/or other people’s Instagram/Facebook photos, and here I am seeing it for myself.

So after reaching our hotel, I freshened up and decided to take a walk. It was cold. Before departing I checked the weather online and anticipated temperatures to be around 20-21 degrees Celsius. When we arrived it was 11-13 degrees Celsius. Chilly! Thank God I brought my spring coat and some sweaters so I layered up. Resting was not on my mind at that time.

Mercure Opera Louvre

my hotel room in Mercure Opera Louvre, Paris. I had the room to myself, thank God I don’t have any issues with sleeping alone in hotel rooms (I know people who are scared of that)

It turned out that our hotel was only a 15 minute walk from the Louvre so I took a walk and walked there, took some pics. I also met up with my college senior who works in Saipem, Paris. We went to the Eiffel Tower and ate churros (locally called Chi-Chis) and had some hot cocoa by the Seine.

it was a cloudy day in Paris

it was a cloudy day in Paris

After the day of the arrival and a rather smooth transition (no jet lag whatsoever) to the time there (it was summer so it got dark at around 9 – 10 PM) the real work started: World Gas Conference 2015! It was a lot like the IPA Convex earlier in JCC, Jakarta, only it was bigger! Due to my limited time at the conference, I really savored every detail, took notes and pictures. Compared to the OPEC Seminar, this conference was heavily dominated by private sector participants (obviously). So it was an interesting experience to taste the best of both worlds.

Being a delegate in WGC Paris 2015 :)

Being a delegate in WGC Paris 2015🙂

Hanging out with Bu Lies Kurniasih at Pertamina's impressive stand at WGC Paris 2015

Hanging out with Bu Lies Kurniasih at Pertamina’s impressive stand at WGC Paris 2015: that’s a touch screen table like the ones in movies

Next Destination: Vienna!

A day before the departure date, my Director notified me that I was assigned to join to assist the Minister’s group in Vienna. So, on the 3rd and 4th of June, the Minister of Energy & Mineral Resources along with top officials from the ministry, including my bosses, both my Director and Director General, and officials from Indonesia’s very own National Oil Company was set to go to the 6th International OPEC Seminar in Hofburg Palace, Vienna, Austria. I guess that event was a precious moment to initiate (and continue) dialogue with oil producing countries for cooperation in the energy sector. It was also an attempt for Indonesia to rejoin OPEC. So a day before the departure date, my boss summoned me to his office and told me that I was assigned to join the group in Vienna to assist during those 2 days. There weren’t any staff from the DG of Oil & Gas coming to the event other than the international cooperation section head, so I guess they could use an extra pair of hands to help out. So that meant I had to make some calls for trip arrangements, from Paris to Vienna, and the way back. And that also meant I have to leave the conference for 2 days. An assignment is assignment, and it has to be finished. So it was another new experience for me: a business trip abroad and assisting the minister’s group. And receiving that assignment, I made a mental note of things I had to prepare for that trip like: the dress code, briefing sheets, folders, memorize the event schedule, and some basic facts of the event and other related material. I repeated over and over again in my head: ‘Don’t mess up. You can do this. Don’t mess up. You can do this.‘ Yeah I have a serious streak when it comes to assignments.

So on June 2nd, I had to take the night flight to Vienna using Austrian Airlines. Honestly I had mixed feelings about the whole trip. Before departing, someone repeatedly asked me if I was brave enough to fly on my own to Vienna. But I assured him that I’ll be fine. I flew from New York to Jakarta alone 2 years ago, so the 2 hour flight shouldn’t have been such a hassle. Well, I was wrong. It seemed that Murphy’s law proved itself during that day. The traffic was horrendous, the zipper on my skirt broke (trust me this had nothing to do with the carbs I’ve been gulping since I got there haha), and there was a glitch when I checked in: the airline guy was unaware of the visa free policy for Indonesian service passports. But after a little patience everything turned out to be OK. The airplane had an old feel to it, and I usually find it tricky to adjust to new airlines, so I thought I could use a glass of wine to fall asleep, or at least to relax a bit.

The famous hazelnut wafer and a glass of wine

The famous hazelnut wafer and a glass of wine

I got to Vienna at night (which meant another night of sleep deprivation). The OPEC seminar was on the next day so I had to be on top of my game. Tagging along a group of bosses meant that you have to stand by, be sharp and alert for on the spot & spontaneous errands. Thank God I made the decision to buy an Orange SIM Card so coordination and communication was not Wi-Fi dependent (which can be a pain in the ass when you’re abroad since not all public places have free and reliable Wi-Fi). Buying an Orange SIM Card ended up being cheaper than activating Indosat roaming so it was a good deal. For 40 euros I got 1 GB of data for 2 weeks, and a lot of free texts and calls. And I could use the SIM Card outside of France too so it was great.

With the minister (Menteri ESDM), DG of Oil and Gas (Dirjen Migas), commisioner of Pertamina (Tanri Abeng)

With the minister Pak Sudirman Said (Menteri ESDM), Pak IGN Wiratmaja DG of Oil and Gas (Dirjen Migas), Pak Wawan Head of UPK ESDM, Pak Agus my director, Pak Sentot the section head of international affairs, Pak Tanri Abeng commisioner of Pertamina, and officials from the Indonesian Embassy

On the morning of June 3rd we walked from the hotel to Hofburg Palace. I was the only girl in the group and I had heels on (not wedges, sigh). So I had to keep up with the group. There was this guy from the embassy who took pictures along the walk to Hofburg Palace and my face in the pictures was really full of struggle haha. The seminar was interesting and it was held in this fancy palace. The OPEC Seminar reminded me a lot about Model UN. Each country read aloud their position papers and outside the conference room there was a lot of unmoderated caucus going on. In Model UN, unmoderated caucus is where the real business happens. It’s when delegates informally meet to negotiate. I guess the OPEC Seminar was the real deal. Outside the room, the committee provided meeting rooms for bilateral meetings between countries, mostly represented by their energy/petroleum ministers which also meant an exchange of souvenirs between countries. During that event, the Indonesian minister got to meet with ministers from Saudi Arabia, UEA, Iran, Iraq, Angola, and Kuwait.

the room of the seminar

the room where the seminar was held

In front of Hofburg Palace

In front of Hofburg Palace

Well it turned out on the day of the seminar I had some spare hours. Luckily the venue was only a brief stroll from Volksgarten, a beautiful garden with pretty flowers. I love flowers. It was a hot day so I took off my blazer and cooled off in the shade enjoying the sight of pretty, blooming flowers.

the pretty garden

the pretty garden

Me in Volksgarten. The weather was so hot, my skin got really itchy from sweating too much

Me in Volksgarten. The weather was so hot, my skin got really itchy from sweating too much.

So after 2 days of negotiation, the group flew to Azerbaizan for another bilateral meeting, and I flew back to Paris to resume my participation in WGC. Before departing with the ESDM group, we had the chance to hang out a bit. It was a rare opportunity to be in the same table with these bosses to have some ice cream. I made this mental note to really work on my small talk.

When I returned to Paris, it was also hot (what a drastic change of weather in one week)! The rule of thumb of zero expectations was also applied. Don’t expect to have enough time (or energy) to explore the city, or well to multitask work with traveling (I learned this over my months assisting the DG). During my trip to Vienna I planned to explore the city using the iconic public transportation (if I had the opportunity) but I ended up being way too tired until my boss called me to join for dinner with the minister and the CEO of Pertamina.

Thank God the whole trip went well. I’m really thankful for the helpful people along the way. I also didn’t lose my wallet or anything like how everyone warned me. Even though I didn’t explore Paris (I didn’t go in the Louvre or any other museum, I didn’t go on the Seine cruise, I didn’t go up on Eiffel Tower, I didn’t enjoy macaroons at the Laduree in Champs Elysees), it was still a great experience for learning and networking. I bumped into a couple of seniors from the ITB Chemical Engineering Department also attending the conference, Mrs. Isabella Hutahaean (TK93) and Mr. Nanang Untung (TK77). We had really insightful conversations.

At first it was overwhelming to be the single delegate from the ministry since there weren’t any seniors from my office coming to the World Gas Conference. I was also the youngest. It was a bit intimidating at first since most of the people going there were very experienced with 10-30 years of experience, compared to the newbie I am with only one year of experience. But I decided to turn that into a challenge and just be the wide eyed kid eagerly learning about everything. There were a lot of conference materials and annual reports about gas from the International Gas Union at the conference and I took all of them home to study. Another interesting thing is, I’ve already known about WGC from last year. Last year when it was open for abstract submission I was thinking of submitting an article about policies regarding natural gas. But I wasn’t confident and the application fee was a significant sum (with the current funding system that is quite rigid, I doubted that I could get funding from the office), so I ended up not writing anything. Since I plan to study abroad, I thought getting my writing published and presented in seminars would be very good for skill building, experience building and also CV building. And I do enjoy writing. That’s why after WGC, I hoped that one day I can present my paper in the next WGC or any other international seminar on energy/oil and gas. Actually after the conference I got an idea to consider to focus on natural gas for my master’s degree since it’s such a relevant and interesting topic, but hey clearly that’s subject to discussion. But all in all it was a very nice highlight to my year (so far). I mean this will become a memory I’d like to remember one day and tell my grandkids “When Grandma was 23 years old, she went to Paris and Vienna on her own …. “ :)

To sum up, it was my first time to Europe, it was for business, and I do hope to return one day, for business or pleasure, but if it’s for pleasure hopefully it would be without my laptop haha and definitely not alone😉