This morning has been such a productive morning for me as I cleaned my room, packed for the move, did a self-disciplining Vinyasa yoga routine, and planned my day ahead. Amongst the serenity, I had an idea to write a love letter to Nijmegen. The first idea I had was to make a video, but I realized that I had all these pictures I've snapped throughout the past almost-2-years that I've lived here. Thus, I bring you one of my favourite Nijmegen hot spots: Down Town.
Amidst the stereotypical La Place's and Hema's of every Dutch city, Nijmegen is a host to a few golden cafés. Down Town is actually tucked away behind De Grote Markt and it is a little nook that is especially filled up during brunch hours towards the end of the week. It's one of those rare places in the Netherlands where the servers smile at you like they just came out of a good Bikram class. I feel like that's an oddly specific experience, but I think I've made my point. Better yet, the place is adorned with an interior that can only be described as Parisian eclectic chic. And yes, you will want to take 2108538 pictures for your Insta stories.
I think I can safely say I've been to Down Town at least a good five times, and each time I've been enticed to try something new. It's a special effect the simple menu has on me, which I can't say for every café since I am definitely a creature of habit. I've tried the Benny Zalm (a poach-egged smoked salmon brioche), Açai Bowl (lots of granola and fruits and toasted coconut shreds!!!), Yoghurt & Granola (a classically European choice that will never disappoint), Avo Toast (filling but a little too clean cut for me), and the Tuna Melt (this one's for all the savoury die-hards).
Aside from the gorgeous cutlery and plating, Down Town has a certain zen vibe that is unmatched. The place makes you feel like it's one of those cold-but-sunny winter mornings the whole time. The customers who come to dine in this cozy nook also bring the same energy, usually with laughing children and gentle couples who share stories and adoring looks in-between bites.
So, what do you think? Are you convinced? Will you be giving this peaceful café a shot? Drop a comment below if you'd like to share your own experience at Down Town, or if you'd like to suggest another hot spot in Nijmegen you'd like for me to review!
On the importance of representation in stories about humans.
Warning: I cried while writing this. Oh, and spoilers ahead.
In a little town in Eastern Netherlands, I sat in a cinema next to my cousin on a particularly stuffy afternoon. The country’s hottest heat wave yet was coming to its end but I felt as though I had just began living. I don’t believe I’m being dramatic. As a person who lives and breathes pop culture and mainstream media, Crazy Rich Asians meant a lot to me. Reading the book a few months before the film’s release was enough to get me giggling on my parents’ couch. As an Indonesian who grew up visiting Malay family friends in Singapore, went to a Chinese-oriented school throughout junior and half of senior high, and has a family who now lives in Hong Kong, I understood the book. I felt like the book understood me. The large family feuds, the secret societies of rich and beautiful people, the unbelievable food.
Needless to say, I was bouncing in my seat with an excited grin, waiting impatiently for the opening credits to end so I could finally sink my teeth in what was going to be the film I’d been waiting for my whole life. I have a lot of things to say about beautiful directing, characters, and representation. Unfortunately, in this day and age, no one truly has the energy to read through all of my thoughts. So, I shall share my favourite parts from the film that touched me the most in the hopes that it will show how Crazy Rich Asians is more than just a film about Asians.
Towards the beginning of the film, Rachel’s mother says to her in Mandarin that although Rachel looks Chinese, in her head and in her heart, she is American. It made me sink in my chair as I recall the countless talks my parents have given me about being a fourth culture kid—about taking the best parts of the cultures I come from and amalgamate them to create the best version of myself. I was never just Indonesian nor Dutch nor American. I am all of it and yet none of it at all. As the movie progresses, it becomes clear (much to Eleanor’s dismay) that Rachel is neither American nor Chinese. She’s simply Rachel. Her passions and ambitions are what define her, not the blend of cultures that raised her to be the ‘ABC’ (American Born Chinese) she is. Furthermore, Eleanor blatantly tells Rachel that she will never be enough for her son. I felt it. When you’re multiracial, you never feel like you’re enough. When I was with my family, I was too Westernized. When I’m with my European classmates, I feel too Indonesian or American. It’s a constant battle of feeling like you’re jumping from one identity to the next. Yet, Rachel never lets Eleanor’s comment gets to her. She doesn’t question her race or the way her mother raised her as an Immigrant in the US. Rachel unapologetically calls herself both, without worrying whether she’s enough of each side. Her identity is unfaltering and she is self-assured. Had I an exemplary character such as Rachel to look up to whilst growing up, the inner strUggle would have been much easier for me.
The next thing that tUgged at my multiracial heart strings was Araminta’s appearance at the airport. When I was younger, I used to envy those who looked more Eurocentric than me, which, naturally, considering the beauty standards in society (Western or not). I remember looking at the girls who wore leggings and sweatpants and Ugg boots and tank tops with their blonde messy buns. Indonesia was always too hot for sweatpants and Ugg boots (they were all I wanted when I visited Australia at the age of thirteen). My parents were always too Indonesian for me to be able to just wear a tank top in public. My hair is too thick to be piled on the top of my head without causing headaches in the long term. It was clear that even if I did conform to the way they dressed, I would never see myself as I saw the white girls who swarmed the airport. Because no matter how much I tried, the clothes and the hairstyles were meant for them. Made by them, modelled by them, and worn by them. Seeing Araminta, who has the same Eurasian wide nose, tan skin, and jet black hair as I do—wearing glasses at that, made my heart swell. It was such a small scene and barely dwelled on in the film, but I didn’t just see a pyjama-clad Araminta greeting Nick and Rachel with her balloons on that screen. For the first time, I saw myself on a silver screen.
One thing that struck me, and one thing that I always pay attention to when it comes to movies, is the soundtrack. When Rachel arrives in Singapore, there is a vibrant montage of her taking in her new surroundings as classic Chinese tracks from the mid-twentieth century plays in the background. It’s reminiscent of the romanticism frequently featured in American film about Europe; the almost nostalgic blend of history, wonder, and romance. It’s what I felt when watching everything from Lizzie McGuire: The Movie to Call Me By Your Name. It made me realise that I had never viewed my own surroundings with the same awe while I was growing up. Crazy Rich Asians shows us that we should be in awe of cities, countries, and continent That our homes have just as much history. That we should be proud of it and the love it has to offer. The best part? the film does it beautifully without orientalising Singapore (or Asia) for one second.
The scene that really brought me to tears, however, was Araminta’s wedding. I had never been one to cry during a wedding scene. I always felt detached from the white churches, walks down aisles, and the iconic “I now pronounce you husband and wife, you may kiss the bride”. As a Moslem-raised Javanese, I grew up watching my aunts, uncles, and cousins kneeling next to their partners in a mosque. The wedding pictures embedded in my earliest memory was of my mother in a kebaya, with traditional Javanese makeup across her forehead, covered in heavy golden jewellery and fresh flowers. As a young child surrounded by images of the Western White Wedding, I refused to imagine myself having the traditional wedding the women who came before me had. Now that I’m older, I realise how horribly brainwashed I had been. And that’s not to say that Indonesian culture doesn’t have its own horrible brainwashing mechanics—particularly regarding women and marriages. However, seeing Araminta with her bare golden feet, walking down an aisle that looks like something straight out of my fondest memories of staying at my grandma’s home in Bali, with Kina Grannis’s acoustic rendition of one of my grandfather’s favourite love songs, simply took my breath away. When the guitar stops playing to welcome total silence as Araminta’s foot hits the water, I bit back a choked sob. I was more than surprised at my own emotional reaction. Wedding scenes never got to me, but I realised that it’s because they never truly connected with me.
There are many other heart-wrenching scenes that stuck with me. Nick speaking in Bahasa Indonesia to order saté from a street vendor. The view of the Marina Bay Sands hotel I used to walk around, admiring from afar. Seeing Mateo from Superstore play Oliver, a gay Asian who is not cast away or disowned by his very traditional family. The lines in Mandarin I can pick up from years of classes I received in school. Nick and his family fondly reminiscing as they made dumplings together. Astrid, who instead of begging her unhappy husband to stay with her as she did in the book, firmly states that it is not her “responsibility to make (him) feel like a man”. Fiona, who sassily rejects Eddie’s horrible attitude instead of receding to a timid demeanour as she did in the books. Rachel’s mother, who is a successful immigrant and single-mother after fleeing from her abusive husband. Her unwavering bond with Rachel.
As a conclusion, I’ll discuss the million dollar question: is the film better than the book? Well, it’s different. The book, I think, is as accurate as a representation of the Chinese diaspora can be. There are crude details left out of the film, most likely for rating reasons, that perfectly encapsulate both the drama and the vocabulary I’ve heard and encountered while growing up. The film, however, is what Love, Simon (which I highly recommend) is for gay people. It’s the ideal outcome. Rachel and Nick healthily communicates before the whole ordeal blows up, Rachel doesn’t attack her mother after she finds out about her father, the female characters are all strong and refuse to have their lives dictated by their husbands.
Either way, both stories consist of dramatic tales from a family so rich, logic says it should be an unreachable dream the middle class can fantasise about and buy into. Yet, I have never felt more connected to a story in my entire life. That’s because Crazy Rich Asians isn’t (just) an Asian Great Gatsby with unrealistic frivolity. It’s about family, identity, and love. That’s why I believe that despite it being an Asian story, Crazy Rich Asians will connect with everyone. Asian or not. Representation is very hard to explain to people who have been represented their whole lives (to the people who got to wear their blonde hair in top knots and stuff their pale feet into Ugg boots). When you have seen your identity defined time and time again through multidimensional, multifaceted characters, your identity would be just as unwavering as Rachel’s. Like every other story out there that features white leads, Crazy Rich Asians is a story about humans. But when you grow up watching human stories with humans that don’t look like you, you question your worth. Are you thin enough, tall enough, light-skinned enough, slender-nosed enough, big-eyed enough? Are you white enough to find the love and happiness the characters you grew up watching did? As an adult, I know now that I don’t have to be any of those things to find love and happiness, even though many of my insecurities still stem from that. But as a child, how I wish I had something like Crazy Rich Asians to show me that I was enough.
The last time I went to Korea was the winter of 2013. It's been so long that I don't really remember (I'm sure my parents will fact check me once they read this post). This time, we decided to stay in Incheon for our 48-hour trip. The two days consisted of a lot of exploring, walking and eating. As per.
The most notable experiences? The patbingsu, obviously. Oh, and the insane amount of (very) hot tteokbokki, but I'm not going to include the pictures of our suffering to protect what's left of our dignity. I do, however, have a cheeky little clip of Gueny's suffering in particular. Watch the YouTube video to watch me embarrass my poor sister.
Anyways, back to the exploring. Incheon is such a gorgeous and calm city. I said to my mom that whoever designed the city (city architects? Is that what they're called?) must've had the time of their lives. There's literally a little river in the middle of the city, crazy almost absurdly futuristic and minimalist monuments/art work, and things like a deer petting zoo and a bunny island at the public park!
See? Whoever was in charge of the look of this city really has 'harmony' down.
We also ate a Korean BBQ place called Dino Meat, but we were so excited for food that I didn't manage to snap a few pics before we devoured all the food.
I honestly don't know what else to say other than the fact that I am definitely going to return one day to film a really cool music video here. And that's the tea.
Okay. Whatever. I regret saying 'that's the tea'. Thanks for reading this post.
A few months ago, I woke up in the Netherlands to news that there was a bombing in Surabaya. During the rest of the day, I constantly checked online to see if there were any updates. I found out that it was a family of suicide bombers, and that they were indeed terrorists. It was the first time I wasn't home during a monumental event. No one else seemed to know what was happening, and I felt very frustrated. I spent that afternoon sitting alone on campus, soaking up the sun and writing this poem. I hope you find solace in my words.
Surabaya, 1743 (2018)
It's everywhere and no where at the same time
If we can’t see it, how are we supposed to fight?
My grandfather was born in Surabaya,
but he lives in a small town twenty minutes away.
My best friend from home went to Church of Santa Maria,
but she’s in school waiting for her diploma.
Went online because my news is filtered media;
they say the terrorists had been to Syria -
as if that could explain the hysteria.
A little girl at the young age of nine.
Hair as dark as mine.
Eyes as hopeful as mine.
The same potential as mine.
But tell me why
she has to die
with a bomb strapped to her torso,
while i sit in a class listening to my professors?
We talk about terrorism in class
as if its not here,
something Other to fear.
But terrorism is not here or there,
it is not anywhere but within ourselves.
How can we blame someone else
when we are the ones murdering our kids;
the one’s we raised, bathed, and kissed?
We taught them how to think.
So how can we blame them
When they are willing to kill without so much as a blink?
Fear is easy when you can blame it on terror.
But what’s it gonna take for us to look in the mirror?
Life is a lottery
I have undeservingly won.
Kamu tidak sendiri
(You are not alone)
Kami tidak takut
(we are not scared)
Teror di Surabaya
(Terror in Surabaya)
Teror di rumah kita
(Terror in our homes)
Teror di dalam jiwa
(Terror in our souls)
I thrifted the blouse at Mee&Gee. Got it for $5. Facts. It's got shoulder pads and everything. The pants I got from Uniqlo. These are my first pair of white pants and I feel like a real responsible adult. (Eating with it on gives me mad anxiety, I don't know how all of you white-clothing-owning-adults do it).
I saw a post somewhere (could have been Leandra Medine or Tan France) saying that we'll regret this whole 'tiny glasses trend' very soon. I agree, but I love it right now and I will over-indulge on the internet for me to cringe at when I look back at my social media platforms. It's called self-awareness and the circle of life. It be like that. Anyway, I got these skinny/tiny/baby sunnies from Bershka. Oh, and the ambiguous abstract earrings (I think it looks like a person's torso) are from Monki!
What do you think about the tiny glasses trend? Is it as stupid as the big orthopaedic sneaker trend? Will we all hate this blog post in two months? I suppose only time will tell. And you, in the comments, if you'd like!
On a particularly chilly/sunny day, my friend, Karla, and I decided to hit up a place in the city for dinner. Karla, who works with lists as much as I do, keeps an ever-growing list of food spots in town she wants to try — and lucky for us, Fika was one of them. Located in a section of the city that my brain hasn’t particularly grown acquainted to, I was a bit apprehensive, so we both decided to look it up on Google Maps and let the app guide us. The restaurant/cafe is located towards the end of its street, right across a cute looking bakery (which could be the star of the next blog post).
I ordered the Gerookte Noorse Zalm (herbed cream cheese, cucumber, and smoked salmon) and Buffelmozzarella (cherry tomatoes, pesto, mozzarella, and greens). I highly recommend both of them. I also ordered a slice of Red Velvet cake to share with Karla, but compared to Union’s Red Velvet cheesecakes (if you’re Indonesian, then you’ll know), Fika’s cake was mediocre at best.
So, overall impression: Fika is incredibly cozy and it's a cute little spot if you're looking for a (cold) dinner. I'd recommend Fika as more of a lunch joint, and it would be a cute little nook to have a reunion with your fashionable friends at. Unfortunately I'd have to have known way more people than I actually do, so that's not possible. For now I will settle for revisiting Fika with Karla and possibly other friends for a chill day out.
Pro tip: if you're in Jakarta, and you'd like to try this delicacy from "The Kingdom of Denmark" (according to Google), I recommend the Smorrebrod at Gandaria City. It's a little nook near the movie theatre on the top floor. It's super cheesy and probably bad for you if you're lactose intolerant (which I'm 80% sure I am), but it's worth torturing your stomach over. Highly recommend.
Did you like my review of Fika? Will you be adding it to your version of Karla and I's extensive list? Do you have any other cafe/restaurant/food joint you'd like me to review? What is the purpose of human existence? Cool thanks for reading bye!
Hi, folks! Guess who's back from the (academic) dead? You guessed it! I'm here and I'm ready to update you all on the fun times I had in Hong Kong over the winter break. Yes, I'm aware that was about a month and a half ago). And yes, I will also be posting the vlogs that I made while I was there real soon.
On another note, I wanted to share a great piece of Hong Kong with you all: the Mee & Gee thrift shop(s) in Mong Kok, Hong Kong. Situated on the sidelines of the lane that is blocked out for the Ladies Market in Mong Kok, Mee & Gee holds all sorts of hidden gems - ranging from FILA sweatshirts to boujie-silky blouses.
The one I fell in love with the most was the one I'm wearing in the pictures above...and throughout the rest of this blogpost. My mom and I took an excessive amount of fire fit pics, okay? Deal with it. Anyways, I found a collection of these blouses. They had all sorts of colours, prints, sizes, and models. The best part? They were all 10 HKD each. That's like, €1.50 for a blouse!!! I've seen some pretty nice thrift shops in NL. But so far, nothing beats Mee & Gee.
The store is wedged in a little alleyway, between a New Balance store and the famous Ladies Market. In the picture above, I'm posing right in the middle of said alleyway. As you can see, that $10 sign is legit, y'all.
Pro tip: there are two Mee & Gee stores right across the street from each other, but they do sell a different assortment of clothes to choose from. When I visited, I personally found more things in the Mee & Gee store by the New Balance shop. If you're looking for those crazy printed blouses specifically, I suggest you visit that one first. However, if you do have time, I recommend checking both out!
To take the look a few steps further, I paired the blouse with a gorgeous faux leather jacket from Musium Div., which I got for Christmas. Unfortunately, the faux leather started giving out and crumbling around the sleeves, so I traded it in for some other cute pieces (including a hoodie, two ribboned-trousers, and a colour-blocking mini skirt). At least it held up long enough for a great Insta post, though.
I also paired it with some slinky dress pants from H&M that I've had for forever. Obviously, the look would have been much more ethical and eco-conscious if I had paired it with some thrifted pants - which is a quest for my next Hong Kong trip!
Lastly, I complemented the look with some layered chains from H&M. The gold chains matched with the gold hardware of the blouse's buttons. Plus, it made the look a little bit more modern (if the New Balance sneakers didn't already balance out the look enough...hehe, get it?) (Pleas excuse my jokes, it's almost midnight and I'm writing this post for the second time because I accidentally deleted it the first time).
To end the great day of an impromptu outfit photoshoot, my mother (aka my personal photographer) and the two kiddos (aka my siblings, whom we dragged around Mong Kok while we took pictures) stopped by the pop-up Sweet Monster shop. I got myself a citrusy-summery-bubbly drink and took a really cool picture so now you all have to look at it, too.
All in all, I learned that I am quite fond of looking like someone's grandmother from the 60's-80's. Still not sure which era those prints came from. Comment below if you know. Also, please don't hesitate to comment some great, thrifty places you may know (in HK, or otherwise). I'd love to check out the thrifty scene some more!
When I think of 2017, blurry organised chaos filled with emotions comes to my mind. Anyone can tell you that trying to find a theme amongst this chaos is just as meaningless as life itself, but if not for the human condition, then why not at least try?
My cheesy self would choose ‘introspection’ as one of the biggest themes of 2017. Despite my dissociation clouding how I perceive memories, I can pick out major events in the past year where I sat down with myself and thought hard about what I wanted and needed. Of course knowing what you need and actually doing it are quite different, but I was finally able to close the gap between the two. In terms of The Self, 2017 was a great year. All the energy, time, and thought I put into me has caused Me to be a priority.
Of course, logic says that everything needs to be balanced and I can say I lacked it quite a bit last year. The high school-themed nightmares slowly became university-themed and now I dream of meeting my friends that I haven’t talked to in a while. It’s hard for me to admit this (partially because this will be shown on the internet for the whole world to see, but also because I’m way more prideful than I’d like to say), but spending so much time on myself has lead me to become somewhat lonely. Of course, I can’t entirely blame it on myself. I moved halfway through high school and now I’ve moved to another country for university. I also need to be more gentle with myself (a resolution for 2018, if you will), and to cut myself some slack since I made so many new friends in my first semester of uni.
There’s also no point in being caught-up in it. I’ve wasted so much time micro-analysing and criticising myself for every small mistake. Life’s too short!!!!!!! Time is a human construct but it’s a new year, I have been reborn, and I will preserver with more knowledge and wisdom than ever (wow I can not get any cheesier).
I’m not really in to listing all of my resolutions, but I like to speak things into existence, plant the seed, and see the harvest (shoutout to you if you know where that’s from).
Which is why, 2018 is going to be the year where I become more open. I will reach out to people, and give them an actual chance before judging them and overthink myself an exit from the not-yet-existent relationship. I will make an effort to ask people about how they're doing, how their days are going. I will call people more. I will make more plans to hang out with people and actually follow through.
I will become more open to art, both in terms of creating and discovering. I will let myself be surrounded by new content all the time. I will not scare myself into not making art before I even start (a very bad habit of mine). Who cares if it turns out bad? Who cares if it's mediocre? Who cares if it's good? Post it. Share it. Tell people about it. Read it aloud. Sing it aloud.
I will be softer, to people and myself. I will allow myself to make mistakes and to continuously try to better myself. I always get super productive in the beginning of the year and kind of wither into a disorganised mess towards the end, but who's to say it can't be mental spring all year round, right?
It's never good to be stagnant. We're allowed to constantly reinvent ourselves. I think I have an innate worry that I do not completely know 'myself' and what that means. But like a painting, or a song, or even a book, I wasn't born 'me'. My identity is an ever-changing, ever-evolving thing and that should not terrify me as much as it does. I am not 'me', I am becoming me. Prepare yourself for another cringe-worthy quote: life is the story/process/adventure of becoming yourself and that has its own beauty when you think about it (or romanticise/glorify like I do, but hey, it works).
So, here's to 2018! May we continuously better ourselves, each other, and Mother Earth.
P.s. 2018 is also gonna’ be the year where we uplift each other. So, if you didn’t know, this is where that harvest quote is from:
You’re welcome. Now you know. Therefore, you deserve a shoutout. This is me shouting you out, you great reader, you. Boom.
I won a photography competition!! I hate it when people type 'eep!' when they're excited online, but...EEP! How did this happen? So, backtrack to October, I saw posters on campus from Cultuur Op De Campus (Culture on the Campus, a study association at Radboud University), saying that they were holding a photography competition with 'activism' as a theme.
Obviously, I had to try. I may not be the most experienced photographer (spoiler alert: I shoot on auto), but I do love photographs and activism. So, I sent in the pictures I took during the Women's March and waited for a reply (click here to read the article).
Funny story, the winners were supposed to be announced during an event at a café on campus. I had written the date on my agenda, as I always do with everything so that I wouldn't forget. Me being me managed to get the date wrong. I ended up missing the event on Tuesday, went to the café on Thursday, and sat there for an hour wondering, when will the event start?
After reading the email I received carefully, I realised that I had missed the event (much to my and Karla's - who I dragged to the café as my date - dismay). Nonetheless, I took some pictures of my photographs on display at a building on campus.
It's one thing to take nice photographs, but it's an entirely new sensation to see your photographs on display for everyone to see. The memories that have been immortalised through these snapshots are so dear to me, and I am so proud of myself and the people in these photographs for coming together to be a part of this new wave of feminism in Indonesia.
In addition, I am glad that they are on display for a predominantly European school to see. Indonesia is often seen as an 'exotic', far-away land to The Netherlands despite it being a former colony. Indonesians are only known for their 'satay', peanut-sauce, and Bali. To many Dutch people, Indonesia is a romantic sunny destination, a tourist hot spot for those who have gathered enough money for the summer holidays - sometimes even a 'spiritual' getaway.
On the contrary, Indonesia is so much more than what the Orientalist view permits. Indonesia is complicated, and often problematic. There is endless abuse and a lot of people are oppressed due to traditional cultural and religious doctrines. These photographs represent those who smile and persevere through the pain, hurt, and oppression.
I hope that my photographs stand as a symbol of strength. That yes, Indonesian womanhood has so many more facets than the sarung-clad women in Balinese paintings or the silent and modest kerudung-clad women you see in the streets. I hope that it says yes, we are under attack and no, we do not need your help. I hope that it allows people outside of Indonesia to be more open-minded and to be more mindful of those who are less privileged than them.
Crying is not an easy thing to put out there. A socially traditional feminine trait, we have been shamed into suppressing emotions that aren't positive or 'happy'. Well, I say screw it. Here's a gigantic screenshot of my splotchy, bloated, crying face. Why am I crying you may ask? Well, my new vlog pretty much explains it all.
© Selena Soemakno. All rights served unless stated otherwise.