Unlikely Friends

Unlikely Friends

This Is My Story, part 4
 
One of life’s greatest joys is meeting new people and finding kindred spirits, those you can resonate in particular ways of thinking. The effect is energizing, it’s as if you’ve been friends for ages, or should have been friends before.
 

What I love about this experience is that it can happen anywhere in the world, with any person of whatever background. This is what I love the most about my friends whom I count as like-minded: they come from all over the world.

 
Take my closest knit of friends, for example. I’m Chinese Indonesian. My two closest friends are a Zimbabwean girl (with a U.S. green card now) who philosophizes over many things in life, and a half Cuban, half black, American lawyer girl who is super articulate. Each of us is about one-tenth Korean because of the foods we eat and the people we hang out with. We love food and we love books. And because of that, we get along so well with our (just a tad bit) older, Korean American sister whose company brings out the nuttiness in us even more (in a good way. I hope I don’t get in trouble for saying this).

 
What is the likelihood that four people from, literally, four corners of the earth can get along so well? And not just get along, but totally in sync in almost every thought and opinion. Don’t underestimate the amount of talking we can do with each other and the breadth of topics that gets covered. (And no, we don’t just talk about girls stuff. Absolutely not!). We have different personalities, different areas of expertise, and even different ways of approaching problems. By most natural standards, we shouldn’t even like hanging out with each other. But we do. Hanging out is our life philosophy.

 
In the larger circle of friends we belong to, the ethnic composition varies even more. At any given hangout session with different permutations of people, at least three continents will be represented easily. In multiple occasions when some 30 of us went out to eat, random people approached us asking if we were part of some program, like a mock UN or global youth type thing (except we don’t look that young). They thought someone forced us to be together. The response, No, we’re just friends.

 
And we’re not together just for special events. We can roll like this all day long, for multiple days. We actually like each other (most of the time), and find the communion of minds invigorating.

 
I’m talking particularly about the family of friends I’ve gained in Seventh-day Adventist communities in Boston, Michigan, and the Mid-Atlantic. More specifically, those who love to talk and think about how to reach and change the world, and those who love to hang out. These are they with whom I resonate in the deepest core. It so happens that they are the same people whose lives are intertwined in public campus ministries.

 
Really, there is no likely reason why we should be friends. We don’t even like the same food, at least not in the beginning. But the wonder is that we are friends, and there is one core reason why this is so: God. We know that each of us subscribes to a culture that supersedes any of our individual cultural and ethnic background, namely the culture of Christ. As a result, our lives are enriched by each other.

 
This culture of Christ and embracing diversity is something I’m very adamant about in my personal life, and especially in the church. (Read articles on racial segregation that some of us have written here). I don’t get cultural insularity, especially when there is a greater purpose to serve. In the community of faith that I belong to, this purpose is to bring the everlasting gospel to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people (Rev 14:6).

 
When people see a diverse group of people who actually like and want to be with each other, no matter what skin color or hair texture, it tells the world that God has done something special not just in the individual lives, but also in the community. It bears witness that there is Someone who has “broken down the middle wall of partition between us” (Eph 2:14), more powerful than any cultural ties.

 
I’m not saying that this multicultural friendship experience can only happen to a Christian; I’m saying that this experience takes place in my life because I’m a Seventh-day Adventist. When I gained Christ and started letting Him order my life, I gained a family of unlikely friends as well.

 

Lady Vera

This Is My Story, part 2

The first great gift God gave to me came in the form of my parents. Today is my mother’s 55th birthday and this post is dedicated to her.

Born in Bali, my mother is the validation of my weak and thin claim that I have roots in a most exotic and fascinating place. She’s the second of four children. She was essentially my math teacher all throughout elementary school, and the early foundation of the engineer in me is credited to her.

She was the one who quizzed me before every exam until 6th grade, and she was also the one who punished me when I underperformed. She accompanied me to dance lessons, English lessons, piano lessons… and for the last one, also sat nearby to pinch me when I pressed the wrong notes, which happened all the time. She bore with me through my ugly teenage years, and now, waiting to see what will become of my life.

My mother’s life is a continuing, open lesson book for me, especially as a woman in the brink of adulthood. Or maybe I’m in it already. I don’t know. It’s debatable.

To the youth, phases of life seem to line up in a predictable way. We start as students. Then comes early working life. Singlehood is the given status around this time, and then comes marriage, kids, middle age, empty nests, and retirement. It seems sometimes that these are the way life should be.

My mother’s life, however, has given me a slightly varied perspective. She lived with her family until she was about 26, moved in with my father when they got married, had kids, lived comfortably, saw her kids went to college overseas, and perhaps experienced early phases of retirement. But when she was 51, everything changed.

She became a widow then, and instead of cruising along in comfort and safety, she began a new phase that she never experienced before, living alone. Her kids are living half the world away, and no one is settled yet. And not only that, she now has to be a full time working woman, inheriting the family business that my father had built almost all of his life. The pressure is high and the burden is heavy, and she bears it day by day, with a degree of uncertainty on what will become of her family.

If there’s anything I learn from her, is that none of us is entitled to live an easy, comfortable, or predictable life. But one thing is sure: God is enough in all seasons of life, and He will sustain through it all, somehow.

Happy birthday to my dearest mother. I love you tons!

The Richest Girl In The World

This Is My Story, part I.

In a few weeks, I’ll be turning into an age that I’ve been looking forward to for a while. And as it usually goes around this time, I automatically go into reflection mode.

This year’s reflection mode, however, is in extra high gear since I’m in a major transition phase ministry-wise, academic-wise, and life-wise. The confluence of these things have in fact put me somewhat in constant reflection since… Oh I dunno … summertime? It’ll probably last until next year.

I understand that transitions and life uncertainties can be stressful, but at this juncture, stress is the polar opposite of my experience. The words I’d describe this phase are excitement, possibilities, and believe it or not, fun. I’m exhausted, but I’m having fun. And I’m grateful. So grateful that I feel like the luckiest girl in the world, except luck is a misnomer, since all good things in my life are given to me by Him “whom my soul loves.”

It’s not to my credit that these things are so. I have a God, and He has been kind to me. My path has not been trouble-free, but I am clay in the potter’s hand, a vessel in the making, silver being refined, and that makes all the difference. I think God is bringing me toward something, a distinct purpose, of which I don’t know yet but I’m getting closer to it.

I’ve been counting my blessings and concluded that I am tremendously and immensely blessed. So with this post, I’ll begin a series of testimonies of how my life has changed. These are not particular incidents, but the overarching narratives of years of transformation.

Oftentimes this generic phrase is used in personal, faith-related testimonies, “God came into my life, and He turned my life around.” What I want to do is spell out just how exactly God has turned mine around.

For me, this reconstruction is deeper than behavioral; it’s in the level of personality, worldview, life philosophy, and the lens through which I perceive people. I’ll pay tribute to the friends I’ve gained, those whom I probably would never come to know if not for my conversion. And of course, I’ll pay tribute to my family and my late father, whose character traits I’ve discovered to be present in me more and more as I grow up. Though my time with him is cut short, I’m so thankful to have been trained, brought up, and loved by him.

In a book by one of my favorite authors, he says, “there are no proofs for the existence of the God of Abraham. There are only witnesses.” (Heschel, The Prophets, p. 27) Well, I am a witness, and I’m unashamed to declare it.

If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I’d say wealth is in the contented heart. The currency of my life consists of friendships, service, learning, wonder, and moments of reflection. Of these I have many. God has made me rich.

Indonesia: Tour de Bali

Breathtaking sights merged with a culture that is so rich and pervasive. That’s Bali, a Hindu island in central Indonesia east of Java. Famous to international tourists and travelers, it took a huge hit when the first bombing happened in 2002, and again after the second bombing in 2005. But the attraction of its natural beauty is hard to ignore for long, and the island continues to recover from those tragedies.

There are many awesome sites in Bali, so a 4-day trip can only cover so much. My cousin, who is studying tourism in college, is very knowledgeable in the culture and background stories of the sites we visited, so that was a nice bonus. Here are the places we visited, and each one of them is highly recommended (there’s hardly a place in Bali I wouldn’t recommend).

1. Uluwatu Temple

At Uluwatu, there is a Hindu temple (well, all temples in Bali are Hindu) on a cliff, overlooking the Indian Ocean. The complex also includes a monkey forest, which has cultural and religious significance, like they guard the temple or something like that. There’s also a back story to the temple, as is the case for every temple, that I’m not well-versed in as well (don’t remember what my cousin said).

Visitors are required to wear sarongs, which are available for free at the ticket counter. The back story of this custom is the believe that evil spirits can enter people through their feet, so you cover your legs to prevent it.

Monkeys are free to roam around the complex, though they stay away from the temple area where they conduct worship ceremonies. The monkeys are vicious! Especially the young ones. They would snatch every possible loose item on your body, so stow them away and hold your bag/purse close. One monkey took my cousin’s glasses, scratching her in the process. Afterwards, they took one of her sandals off her feet, despite her screaming and yelling at them. Then, they took the other one!

To get stuffs back, you need to trade with them, like giving them food, but sometimes they wouldn’t take it from you. The best way is to get the help from the guides, who roam around the complex. These guides are kind of like monkey whisperers. My cousin gave up and was walking barefoot already, but a while after, one guide came and asked what the monkeys took. And he got all of them back! Amazing. Not to mention these monkeys run around like crazy. Maybe he knows all of them by name.

But the best thing about Uluwatu is the ocean view from the cliff. It simply speaks for itself.

Gorgeous shades of the Indian Ocean

2. Padang-padang Beach

Padang-padang is one of the smaller beaches in Bali, as opposed to the hugely popular beaches in Kuta and Sanur. You get to the beach by walking through a narrow path in between rocks. The beach is not exactly the best place to swim in, since the sand is rocky and can be quite sharp. You’re basically swimming in the Indian Ocean and ocean water is usually cooler than sea or strait water. This is probably why it’s not as popular as Kuta and Sanur, which are beaches along the curves of the land, shores of small straits in between islands. These beaches would have softer sand and warmer water.

Padang-padang Beach

3. Dreamland Beach

Dreamland is not that far from Padang-padang, but it’s more swimmable. The currents are very strong, however, so beware of loosing pieces of swimwear when the waves come!

Dreamland Beach

4. Garuda Wisnu Kencana (GWK)

GWK is a cultural park dedicated to the Hindu god Wisnu (or Vishnu). Garuda means eagle, and kencana means something like a carriage. The park is to house an ongoing statue project of Wisnu riding his eagle, which would be the tallest thing in Bali and probably one of the largest statues in the world. Currently, only sections of it are completed, and they are displayed in different plazas in the park complex.

Wisnu, one of the Hindu gods.

5. Tanah Lot

Tanah Lot is one of the most popular sites in Bali, and one of my personal favorites. The sunset there is absolutely gorgeous, although it is hard to catch a perfectly clear day to watch the perfect sunset. Of all the years I’ve gone to Bali, I’ve only seen one perfect sunset when I was seven or eight. The horizon and the circular line around the sun were defined and crisp, and the sun sank into the horizon quite swiftly. It was probably the first time I experienced real awe and wonder. It just did something to the soul; my entire being was …wow-ed. I still remember the feeling.

The Tanah Lot temple, or Pura Tanah Lot, sits on a rock which would be on or offshore, depending  on the tides. The shape of this rock and the temple is pretty iconic and distinctly Tanah Lot; you would recognize it in paintings or abstract pictures.

Sunset at Tanah Lot.

Pura Tanah Lot.

6. Nusa Lembongan

There are one-day cruise packages now that you can get in Bali to a smaller island called Lembongan. The package would include a buffet lunch, water activities such as banana boat, snorkeling, submersible, kayaking, diving, etc. We did this for an entire day and it was tons of fun. There are 3 main cruise lines, Bali Hai, Bounty, and … I forgot the other one. And the prices are relatively cheap compared to other countries (but maybe not so much for locals).

I didn’t dive in Lembongan, but from the snorkeling sites, I don’t think it would be the best place to dive in, since a lot of the corals are dead. They are still impressive and colorful, but wouldn’t you want to see live corals with even more vibrant colors instead? If you wanted to dive in Indonesia, then the place that you should go is Bunaken in Manado, North Sulawesi, or the islands in the eastern part of Indonesia. They are more remote, but I’m sure the experience is worth the travel.

Nusa Lembongan

7. Kuta Beach

Kuta Beach is the most famous beach in Bali, usually packed in the evenings. Sunsets there are gorgeous too. The beach is perfect for swimming, since the sand is soft and the water not so cold. There are lots of vendors along the beach too that would offer hair braiding, temporary tattoes, soft drinks, boogie boards and surfboards, etc.

Kuta Beach

(Uluwatu, Padang-padang, Dreamland, GWK, and Kuta are in the southern tip of Bali. Tanah Lot is a bit north and west of the island, and Lembongan is an island off the east part of Bali, though it is still part of the Bali province).

Indonesia: A Familiar Rabbit Hole

Coming from the US to Indonesia feels a little bit like being Alice in Wonderland for me – the world seems to shrink in size. Cars are smaller, roads narrower, furniture and doors more compact, etc., and people stand and drive much closer to each other. And in case you’re wondering, yes, the people are shorter too, so I’m relatively less short in Indonesia.

Maybe the shrinking feeling is not necessarily true everywhere, but it is especially true with the house that I grew up in. Of course, the most vivid memories of the house are from childhood days, when the house was much bigger relative to my size. So it’s always a surprise when I come back home and realize the fridge is not as big as it used to be.

It’s always a bit strange when a place you call home feels foreign. Whenever I don’t come back for more than 1.5 years, I need time to adapt and get used to the swing of things. And usually at the end of the visit I don’t want to leave. We’ll see what happens this time, but as for now, I’m acclimating myself to home for sure.