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A Satisfying Breakfast

November 29, 2018

Silky. Salty. Sweet. A medley of mellow tastes salivates your mouth with milky and buttery liquid. Cradling the lump of burnt sugar with your tongue while gently pushing it up to the palate will melt the hardened sweets. Bringing the piece between the molars and alternating slow chew with gentle suck will turn the hard candy into pliable form and impart more intense flavors of caramel and coffee.

This is how you have a true confectionery experience from a piece of hopje.

Locally made hopjes candies.

Locally made hopjes candies.

Hopje or hopjes is a piece of hard candy with Dutch origin and a history of two centuries as solid as its texture. The candy owned its name to Baron Cornelis Hop, a Dutch envoy to French. As a coffee addict, the Baron once left his coffee with sugar and cream next to a fireplace. The evaporated concoction turned into a thick mass. However, the Baron liked the taste. He went to see Theodorus van Haaren, a baker and asked van Haaren to create a candy that imitates the taste of the burnt coffee. Later it was known as Haagsche hopjes or hopjes from The Hague, a city in the Netherlands. There was a bit of copyright issue with the hopjes as a big food company claimed to be an original producer of the candy. As time goes, many hopjes variants are flooding the market.

My grandfather introduced me to the hopjes. Each had a deep brown color and the shape of a cube with rounded corners at one side. The wrappers had two layers, the inside layer was a wax paper and the outer layer was a thicker white paper with the candy’s name printed on it. It looked like a fat-bellied small boat ready to sail into my mouth. Unwrapped, of course.

These heavenly candies were the most precious as he only distributed them on festive holiday. It was an annual event for grandchildren whose parents managed to visit the senior couple. Grandfather would ask us to line up before placing a few of those candies on our palms. He also had other candies to offer, licorice pastilles. Which kid would eat them willingly anyways?

Dentists may not agree with me as sucking sweets would cause more damage to the teeth. Blame it on the acid that mouth bacteria produce and become the culprit for tooth decay. A piece of hopje was melting slowly in my mouth while I was sitting on my grandparents’ porch, watching people exchange greetings, listening to the newspaper boys shouting different names of newspapers, and basking under the morning sun. That was a satisfying breakfast for a nine-year-old me.

The famous candy resurfaced from the back of my memory when a friend whose parents live in the town where my grandparents used to live sent me a photograph of the hopjes through Whatsapp.

“Random finds from the market.” She typed under the image.

“Like lightyears away. Bring me some, will you?” I said.

“If I could find them. Cross fingers!”

She later told me that it was locally made and the brand seems to have been in the market for ages. The candies come in a plastic pouch with white wrappers. I did not know whether the hopjes that I had in my childhood was made in The Hague or made locally. I have not tasted any hopjes for ages. I would not know whether the local brand would taste the same with the original one. I only know that the memory of that satisfying breakfast on my grandparents’ porch lingers.

To Jump or Not to Jump

September 23, 2018

A photo of a person jumping off a piece of land.

The only adult in the house with three bedrooms, a family room, a living room, and a dining room, was a young housemaid. It was a she. Her job was to make sure that the children occupying the spacious house ate their lunch and took their day nap before the afternoon. Except that a parent-free house and a lazy afternoon gave the best setting for children’s mischiefs.

As far as I remember, that year I hated a classmate whose body odor reminded me of salted eggs. Boiled ones. I must have been in fourth grade, living the tenth year of my life. My brother was younger by two years. The age of following and mirroring his sibling. That would be me. We were the only little humans in the family photograph hanging on the wall of the living room.

We had our lunch. We went to a no-brand, no-rank private elementary school half an hour drive from home. From where I came from, this type of school was equal to almost nonexistent homework. When our parents, especially Mother, were out there somewhere, we had the house to ourselves. Since the notion of a party was not part of our vocabulary, we were content with exploring things that our Mother specifically told us not to.

Exhibit A: The old wardrobe sitting in my parents’ room. It was an unassuming black wooden wardrobe with double doors and a single door full of drawers. The piece of furniture stored my parents’ clothes and trinkets. The aroma of vetiver and camphor filled the inside. The last time I was standing next to my Mother, who was looking for something in the wardrobe, I crawled under the hanging gowns and suits, on top of folded clothes. It was the perfect soundproofed hiding spot! Of course, she pulled my feet and gave me a stern look of “never-again” warning.

Exhibit B: The bare ladder leaning precariously against the wall of the family room waved an open invitation to an exciting world of a half-finished attic mezzanine turned into a storage room. The only way to access the attic mezzanine was by climbing the bare ladder with some nails sticking out.

I had been eyeing that ladder since my Father moved some boxes up several months ago. He always took the ladder away and kept it outside.

That one fine afternoon, it was there.

“What do you think?” I looked at my brother.

“Huh?” Of course. He was eight. What do you expect?

“I want to see what’s up there.”


I pointed at the ladder and walked towards it. I held the ladder with my two hands, trying to feel its strength.

“Dare to climb it to go up?” Asked my brother.

“Sure!” That was me, with the confidence of a drill sergeant. “Hold the ladder for me!” My brother obediently did so.

My bare feet stomped on the floor of the storage room. The plywood base was covered with a thick layer of dust. It felt slippery on my dry soles. I swept through the room. Boxes everywhere. A wall shelf full of thick, old books with endless stacks of paper crowding the shelves.

My brother called my name. I held the ladder from the top. He was much lighter than I was, thus he climbed faster and easier.

“What are we gonna do here?”

I did not answer his question and walked towards one of the boxes. I opened one. Magazines. Past editions of a magazine that my parents were still subscribing at that time. In my adulthood, the government would shut down that magazine for some administrative reason. The kid version of myself had fun taking the magazines out from the boxes just to check out the covers. One box was done. More to go! My brother went on to check out the other side of the wall. He found some old toys. It did not take long for us to get bored from our little exploration. We, more like I, looked at the mess we made.

“What time is it?” I wondered. My brother shrugged. “Do you think Mother would be angry if she finds us up here?” The response was another shrug.

The only logical way to go down would be the ladder. Except that my brother had no idea how to hold the ladder for me. He did not dare to go first.

I looked down from the mezzanine’s half wall. The family room looked like a vast space into which I could actually dive into. I remembered a superhero movie that our Father took us to watch. The hero was a guy with a red cape. He looked graceful and cool whenever he made the jump or leap into the air. I was seriously considering trying the same technique. Jumping could not have been that difficult. I was also wondering whether I would float like he did in the movie. The height stopped me. My brother suggested that we wait for help. We called out the housemaid’s name. No answer. We shouted to the top of our lungs. We waited for a bit longer. The clock was ticking. I had a very good feeling that Mother was just around the corner. She could have been at the front gate as we were waiting like two clueless monkeys in the forbidden storage. She would go bazooka if she had found us up here. Most probably she would not feed for God knows how long.

I made the jump. Bam!

I did not float. I passed out.

When I finally regained consciousness, it was already the following day. Around the same time as I made the fateful low-altitude-no-opening jump. My body felt stiff. One of my feet felt heavy. Some sort of casing was cast around it. I managed to move my body and used my hands to lower my feet-in-cast to the floor. I tried to stand up and failed. I sat down on the floor and dragged myself to see whether the world was still around. I could hear the voice of my Mother. I took the risk. She caught the sight of me peeking from the door to the family room. She did not look happy.

For one good week, I was pretty much confined to the walls of my home. My mother took me to see a doctor for a second visit after the cast was placed. The doctor said that my leg seemed to be fine and the cast could be broken. I was free!

Many moons later in my adult life, reflecting on the incident of my jumping off the attic on a whim despite a quick calculation that it would not have cost my life, it was not hard to say that my life has been about unplanned jumping from one excitement to another with calculated risks. I rarely recounted this incident to people. The last time I did it, they thought I was an alien sent on a mission to colonize the earth.


This was written as part of a series of assignments in Narrative Essay Workshop, 2018.


February 10, 2017
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  • “I wouldn’t have reached this position if it hasn’t been for you.” (A person who just got promoted following my advice on taking up a degree in tertiary education);
  • “Thanks to you, now I have the skills that I’m using to improve myself.” (A person who joined a training I organized many years ago and applied the skills in actual work);
  • “Would you give me a reference? I’m applying for this job.” (A former team member, applying for position that is better than mine);
  • “That is a really good advice. Thank you.” (A former colleague).

Apart from those expressions of thank-yous and gesture of respect from fellow colleagues, what made my day today comes surprisingly unannounced:

“You are in my top 10 of best hires I made.” – A former employer.

I think when the going gets tough, I shall remember that I made that cut, no matter how big or small the size and ranks of the “best hires”. For me, it’s always the trust that matters.

To anybody who’s interested in aid industry, the world is your oyster. Go get ’em, Tiger!

Image source:

Tom at Toho

November 14, 2016

Movies are great escape from daily turbulences called life.

People gave me a blank when I said I once saw three different movies in a day, in three different cinemas. Here is three different cinematic experience in three different countries.


Scala Siam

Scala Theater in Siam Square. Bangkok’s most elegant and oldest cinema in the heart of the city. The newest and most glamorous cineplex is just across the street, inside Paragon Mall.

Cinema hopping in Bangkok, in the wake of mobile Internet (2008-2009), was a lot of fun as it required finding cinemas that would actually screen movies in a language you understand and planning your ways to and from the cinema, which might involve assorted modes of transportation. The IMAX theatre was huge and at 300 THB (about US$10) it was a steal (this was 2009 price. When Jakarta finally had an IMAX cinema a few years after 2009, it cost similar but with smaller screen). Independent, foreign, and festival-winner movies had its own community and cult viewers. Although the cineplex, RCA House, is rather far from the city grid (it took me an hour by train, subway, and a motorbike taxi ride to get there).

Before a movie started, apart from regular array of coming-soon trailers, you would be required to stand up and pay respect for the Thai King. There was a mandatory documentary of the King with The King’s Anthem playing in the background. And if you don’t stand up, you may end up at “Bangkok Hilton”. Don’t mess with this one.


Nay Pyi Taw Cinema Hall Yangon

Nay Pyi Taw Cinema Hall, Sule Pagoda Road, Bangkok. Next to Sakura Tower and within walking distance from Sule Pagoda, the zero kilometer of Yangon, Myanmar.

The most interesting theatre I went was in Yangon. It was Bond’s Casino Royale. Having seen the same movie a few months before in a glitzy, sleek cineplex in Bangkok, I felt like being transported back to the 70s. The biggest screen in Yangon is centrally located and it was a single screen with folding chairs. People would yell and scream if they liked or did not like the scene (Myanmar’s neighboring country is also famous for this trait). Their favorite in-cinema snack was roasted salted peanuts in shells. As the lights went on once the movie ended, my sympathy went for the cleaning service.. Let’s not ask whether the copy (of the movie) was legal or not..


I splurged on Tom Cruise’ own production and franchise sequel in what probably planet Earth’s most expensive cineplex: Toho Shinjuku. Who in their sane mind would pay 22 friggin’ bucks to see Jack the Reacher (post Trump winning that is) in an IMAX theater (which screen was rather small)? Perhaps because the zen-self in me wanted to have a few hours of quick nap and shelter from the chilly November breeze.

Toho Cineplex Shinjuku Tokyo

Toho Cinema in Shinjuku often screens Hollywood movies in English with Japanese subtitles in kanji (and some hiragana/katakana). This is where the famous Godzilla statue also located. Cinema Qualité, a few hundred meters across Toho building (to the direction of Takashimaya Department Store) often screens foreign movies.

I’m not sure whether they slowly sucked on their popcorns and let the kernels melt in their mouth or else. Not a single chew. Not a single crunch. Not a single slurping sip (except from the guy next to me who gave in after the second half — who wouldn’t, BTW). Not a single exhale! I wasn’t sure whether they understand the subtle humor of an American Bond (Reacher) handling a millennial teen or not. Perhaps it didn’t translate well into their culture, therefore th absence of even a smirk! The movie itself was pretty quiet (D’oh!).

Nevertheless, that was the most intensely quiet movie experience I’ve ever been. Still want more? 90% of the viewers were still sitting down until the lights went on at the end of the credit. Only those sitting down along the aisles left earlier. Speaking of Japanese and their strong adherence to rules of civility..

I’m dying to fly..

February 29, 2016

image the lady in front of me. Donning a knee-length batik dress with a matching navy blue cardigan and medium-heeled dark blue stilettos. She put down her dark blue trapeze leather bag on her aisle seat. As she was scanning the cabin compartment to place her four-wheeler slim cabin bag, a cabin crew helped her mount her carry-on. The luggage was as slim as her.

So slim that I believe it only fits her laptop and a night gown.

She took her seat, buckled up and sat poised. She did not bother to read the paper and definitely did not open any laptop nor gadgets. She just sat there quietly, lightly held onto her handbag.

Here I am, sitting three seats down, hurting my thumb while lifting my carry-on baggage onto the overhead compartment, filled with clothes for three days and two nights trip, a laptop bag in which a 2.5kg laptop resides, a DSLR camera that weighs slightly more than a kilogram, a bundle of papers on village boundary, and used papers full of my scribbles. On an international flight, I would certainly be barred from entering the cabin.

Economy class aisle seats tend to be cold when the plane reaches five digits altitude. Born with allergies to cold, I packed up a jacket. I opened and read a newspaper so that as it spreads, it warms my feet. At least I had a pair of leather loafers, lined with socks.

I looked like a Moose and that lady in blue embraced the pressurized cabin temperature. She was probably the older version of Princess Elsa from Disney’s Frozen.

The Field

February 25, 2016


In an office-bound work setting, field work presents such an immense appeal for many people, be it firstjobbers who are starting with their career or oldtimers who badly need a change from their desk-bound routine.

A colleague, whose desk is practically an elbow away, loves the field because he can get a lot of actual work done.

I find field work as fresh air that puts myself in a bubble and allows me to actually focus on one single mission, whatever that is: from sitting down with a partner organization to get a logframe done, introducing e-mails to local organizations in the province, tracking garbage pick-up route from residential area to final dump site to justify the cost of garbage cart with dividers, jotting down notes like crazy until my wrist went frozen (I’m not used to voice recorder) while a colleague (who interpreted the whole conversation) finally snapped, “My God, you ask too much!”, to breaking the ice by distributing clove cigarettes to a group of foreigner-shy farmers to get them talk about rice harvest in post-disaster situation,

It was very rewarding to hear comment of that colleague of mine upon reading my write-up later on, “All this was from our last visit? I think you can ask more from now.”

In the midst of a bad burnt out episode, field work helped me refocus and re-thinking about which direction I need to take as the road not taken has the same drama with the road taken.

Lucky Number 15 – Wrap up post

November 30, 2015
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This is a wrap up post for a reading challenge — my first, actually — in my years of being a book nerd.

I like this challenge because I happen to have all the books in the categories and I can choose which book I wanted to read. I’m a sucker for reading challenge with predetermined books/authors.

Of all these books, “Everything I Never Told You” and “The Narrow Road to the Deep North” left a personal impression, simply because in one way or another, I’ve been there. I understand they way people look at you when you have different color and look (as in “Everything I Never Told You”) and being a World War II history junkie, I visited the setting of “The Narrow Road to the Deep North”. The narrow path of the Hellfire Pass was indeed eerie. Although what shocked me was the number of forced laborers from my country — that did not exist until the end of World War II — compared with those other countries.

I put “The Secret History” under freebies, although I ended up leaving a small amount of money as tip for the caretaker of an inn in Sanur, where I bumped into the book that I have been looking forward to read. It could have been free as the innkeeper told me to bring the naked book. But I didn’t feel like it does justice to the seminal work of Donna Tartt.

The reading challenge indeed gave me some deadline and direction in finishing up my backlog of books. I have probably several dozens of them.


To escape. To go somewhere. To nurture empathy. To find who you are. To enjoy a good story. To ask questions. To have a company.