THE PERSONAL TRAINER

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Approachable is one way to describe him. Actually, it is the opposite, he does the approaching, accosting you when he thinks he needs your help with a machine or if you’re doing something wrong with an exercise. That’s how I met him at the gym albeit I had been frequenting Helios at Bekasi CyberPark Bekasi for several months. I’d see him attending to his client every time I was working out. Then one fine December night about 16 months ago, he came over to me. By him, I’m referring to Agus Wahyudi, one of the personal trainers at Helios, whose teddy bear demeanor belies a martinet.

“Let me give you a trial workout,” he said casually, a huge smile crossing his face, as he prepped the leg extension machine.

The workout regimen convinced me to sign him up as my personal trainer despite feeling that every muscle in my body seemed to have been ripped apart. I was challenged even though running up a flight of stairs in school the next day proved excruciating – an experience was commingled with a tinge of hilarity. Picture this – as I run up the stairs I was muttering “Ouch, Ouch”. Every step elicited looks of wonder from every student and colleague who tried hard to suppress a giggle or guffaw.

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Immediately after my Christmas break, I began my sessions with Pak Agus which meant training with him four times a week. Admittedly, the first month had me in tears; every squat, lunge, abdominal exercise or chess press was incendiary, but I carried on cajoled by Pak Agus who seemed to not notice that I was picking my tongue off the floor every session, and only smiled during the rest periods between exercises. But I was fuelled by a determination to conquer all the exercises he threw my way and get my breathing to a normal pace, so I trooped diligently to Helios – rain or shine – and worked out between two and three hours.

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Pak Agus’s personality showed through our sessions. For one, he is a professional who puts all his attention on his client, as he rarely misses a session unless it’s, for instance, a family emergency. Second, he is a movie buff who kept me updated on which movie I should not miss or give a miss. He gave “Logan” the thumbs up. Third, he’s funny. His disappointment with Emma Watson’s “Beauty and the Beast” because, in his words, “there was a lot of singing” had me laughing. He fell asleep in the cinema. Fourth, he is affable. Every member of Helios is on speaking terms with him; he is just simply nice to speak with. There’s not a drop of arrogance in him. Fifth, he is entrepreneurial. He used to manage a snack bar at Helios selling steamed egg white, sandwiches, coffee and other beverages, etc. Sadly, the rent hike was too much so he closed shop. However, he is back selling beverages like water, coconut milk, protein shakes, Pocari sweat, banana, and especially the pudding, fruit salad, or green bean pudding made by his wife.

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Lastly, and this is why I have not changed personal trainers, he is credible. He eats healthily, doesn’t smoke, emphasizes correct movement, posture and breathing, and answers all of my questions about fitness in a straightforward manner. Moreover, the fact that he has a balanced workout is a stark testament to his integrity as a legitimate personal trainer. It’s difficult, I find, to trust a personal trainer who has chicken legs and, horror of horror, smokes. I had a personal trainer before at Helios but it was short-lived. He was not qualified to be one and I regretted signing up with him.

A personal trainer is just like a teacher. The trainer must be knowledgeable, professional, and able to establish rapport. Fortunately, Pak Agus fits the bill to a T. He is committed to my fitness journey as I am.

DANCING BAMBOOS 

I had noticed them as we sped down the highway on her scooter. They piqued my curiosity and sense of amazement. The analogy of my gal-pal Eta, who observes Galungan (think Thanksgiving), when I asked about a decorative post outside the back gate of Sanur-based Hotel Puri Tempo Doelo was striking. It was a little shrine on a pole which was slightly taller than me. She said it was a religious fixture related to Galungan and Kuningan, religious traditions that celebrate the triumph of dharma over adharma. In a nutshell, dharma is the belief in Hinduism of fulfilling one’s divine duty and nature thus overcoming its opposite, adharma. Adharma is the antonym connoting chaos and disharmony. Both traditions are marked by prayers at the temple.

This solitary decorated bamboo pole transformed into numerous towering bamboo poles undulating against the clear blue skies in Ubud. They lined the narrow streets of Ubud, the ends drooping down as if bowing respectfully to welcome visitors. I was completely taken by the sight of these bamboo poles swaying like carefree dancers in the cool breezes. Eta explained that these decorated poles are known as penjor, which to make a non-Hindu understand, is analogous to a Christmas tree of those who celebrate Christmas. The concept is similar in terms of symbolizing a tradition, each household having one, and the decor running the gamut of simple to absolutely breathtaking that normally include coconut leaves, fruits like bananas and apples, and stalks of rice grains. The drooping end has a miniature triangular cage that contains the offerings for deities and spirits of ancestors.

A penjor dancing in Ubud


The 10-meter penjor is usually placed in front of houses or business establishments of Hindus as a sign of gratitude and religious offerings a day before the start of Galungan which is on a Wednesday once every 210 days based on the Balinese calendar. Galungan was observed on March 28, 2017. Following Galungan, which is 10 days after it is observed, is Kuningan or the time when the spirits of ancestors return to heaven. It normally falls on a Saturday and only two weeks after Kuningan are these dancing bamboos taken down.


The penjor truly fascinated me. Gazing at them dancing in the air, I marveled at the creativity and dedication involved in making them, not to mention the patience in weaving them for hours. The adherence to a time honored traditions – making offerings of prayers and crops – in the midst of modernity that erode religious and cultural traditions filled me with awe stoking the fires of faith. That gods and ancestors are always looking done protectively at mortals and their kin is assuring; they will always triumph against modernization’s threat of oblivion.

A penjor at Bali’s domestic airport

GELATO MANIA

Chatime is a lone stall along Jalan Bypass Ngurah Rai in Sanur, but I learnt that other outlets are starting to dot other regencies. Starbucks is everywhere on the island including rustic-but-slowly-getting-urbanised Ubud. Even the Thailand-made Fipper rubber slippers are ubiquitous. But what struck me the most was the ubiquity of gelato counters because every where you walked is a gelato kiosk teeming with people. Gelato mania is strong in Bali which is nonexistent in Bekasi. Naturally, I jumped on the gelato bandwagon duly accompanied by my gal-pal Eta who had sussed out the gelato to dig into. I needed to understand the mania.
My pick of Oops! gelato was an oops moment, meaning oops, it was a mistake to get a cup of gelato from it. Both Eta and I were unanimous in our review that the texture was nowhere near the rich creaminess of Massimo and Gusto. The taste fell flat on the palate. On hindsight, I felt like I was eating air. The experience wasn’t as exhilarating either as expected when digging into a cup of sweetness. The surliness of the old man who took our order made the gelato experience take a nose dive. I have always maintained that people working ice cream – or cupcake – counters must be as chirpy as the animals in the Walt Disney animated film “Cinderella”.

Gelato by Massimo Italian Restaurant

Eta was au courant about gelato and steered me towards Massimo. Located on Jalan Danau Tamblingan in Sanur, its counter is at the very opening of Massimo Italian Restaurant which is equally packed with diners, both locals and tourists, every night. A throng of people surrounding the gelato counter will certainly pique one’s interest. The crowd is made up of those having their dessert first while waiting for a table to clear; those dropping by for a cup or cone; or those ending their Italian meal on a sweet note. The beauty of Massimo’s gelato lies in three factors. First, there is a myriad flavors to choose from. That night I settled for a small cup of cannoli and Nuttella sitting side by side. Two flavors in one cup without additional cost is the second factor. You can mix and match any flavor unlike in Oops! Lastly, the servers, although busy, were not crotchety compared to the staff at Oops!

Second gelato stop was Gusto Gelato and Caffe in Seminyak that exuded that Massimo aura. It was jam packed like Massimo, but there was no lag in ordering and getting your gelato. The crew was hustling but far from brusque. Choice of flavors too was not limited to one scoop per cup and cone – one gets two choices at no extra cost. The set up was simple: pay first then move to the ice cream area where a crew member will collect your receipt and ask for your choice of flavors. My small cup – it is very filling – this time had a scoop each of caramel and matcha which I scooped clockwise melding the flavors into one delicious gelato swirl.

Back: pineapple and coconut gelato Front: caramel and matcha gelato

My curiosity was sweetly satisfied. The gelato mania isn’t simply to beat the heat of sun. Scooping into gelato is a delectable treat as you cool your heels and take in that relaxing Balinese vibe.

SELF-HEALING 

The situation can go two ways when the universe decides to hurl a spanner your way. One, you immediately pick yourself up from the ground, shake off the throbbing pain, and move on. Or, second, you stay where you are and ride the waves of pain. Number one is the ideal way to deal with the pain in life – pain, after all, is the flip side of joy. One should never let, as author Kurt Vonnegut said once and I am paraphrasing him, let the world make you hard and bitter. But self-healing is easier said than done. Admittedly, there are people who are quick to recover from life’s cruel jokes, flicking off acrimoniousness as if flicking off lint from a jacket. Who doesn’t want to be such a person who cruises through life? 
Conversely, there are those who are overwhelmed with the pain. For some the pain is a slow mind- and heart-numbing experience while it is instantaneous numbing for others. Unfortunately, I belong to the first group of people who take a little longer to repossess a vim for life. As if to add insult to injury, the spanners thrown at me are laced with sardonic jabs. A life-altering experience turned me jaded, turning me skeptical of men and relationships having been duped by one. It took several years before my heart thawed to the possibility of opening up to another human being. Riding the pain was the sole therapy I did until time healed the wound and before I knew I took the risk again.

A risk is a risk. Like a spanner situation, the gamble can go south or not. I don’t regret taking the risk; I just mourn the less-than-amicable turn it took. This time I rode the wave of pain briefly and embarked on a journey of healing quickly by heeding the words of wise women including my inner voice.

1. Follow your heart.

      This advice is from my gal-pal, Theresia, who, without judging him – I still consider him my wonderful man despite everything – said I should follow my heart. There is no denying that I still feel for him, but at this point my heart is telling me to let him go for now.

2. Be strong.

       I got this advice from a buddy of mine, Vissy, who also has been through tumultuous times. I practice this by steeling myself emotionally and refocusing my energies on something else like myself and work. There is, I tell myself repeatedly, no point in wallowing in self-pity. 

3. It is time that you are happy.

     This is the other advice I got from Vissy who was a witness to the cataclysmal period in my life several years ago. I recite it like a mantra when I feel the icy presence of sadness.

4. Cry all you and then stop.

      This one is from my mother who sat me down aeons ago after a break up I had. There really is no point in crying over spilt milk albeit one good cry session does wonders, but more than one is bad for one’s physical and mental health. I have done my crying – literally and figuratively.

5. Every heartbreak is different. You will come out of it fine.

     This one came from my long-time friend, Patricia, who has been a constant witness to my heartbreaks. I must have burnt ears countless of times with the phone calls I made through the decades of my friendship. I take comfort in her words because it pushes me to shift my mindset and see the positive slant to everything. 

6. Keep the door open.

     My gal-pal Nina wrote this in one of our Hangout chats. I have shut the door on my wonderful man, but I haven’t locked it and throw away the key. He just needs to knock if he wants to enter my life again.

7. Have faith and believe that everything will fall into place.

      This is not an advice that was given to me. It is a lesson I took from working with my boss, Ibu Luh Gede Puspini Rini, through the years at Global Prestasi School. She is a formidable tower of patience and a deep well of hope and faith that never fails to astound me. When the chips are down she never throws in the towel and soldiers on to get the people or project on the right path. I am slowly rebuilding my well of hope and faith that got depleted through the years of disappointments and heartaches. The same goes for patience.

8. Acknowledge your feelings.

    This came from a commencement speech delivered by Filipino ballerina Lisa Macuja-Elizalde two years ago at the Ateneo de Manila University. She shared the eight things that led her to her current position, which is a successful woman despite not having a university degree, and one of the eight was addressing one’s feelings. It made sense because healing won’t begin if one doesn’t sort out the roiling emotions, identify them, and weed out the ones that are noxious. Emotions are powerful and can dictate the course of action which is why getting a grip on them is vital. It is important to feel and go through the emotions, but it is equally important to not let them control one completely. 

      I am angry because he believed something of me that is not true and, to make it worse, didn’t want to listen to me. Worst even, he shut me out of his life completely. These thoughts still leave me feeling as I have been sucker punched but I have learnt to divest my mind of such thoughts after admitting them briefly.

9. Go to your happy place.

     Lastly, this one is from my inner voice. I have a few happy places to run to: Helios, the gym I go to at Bekasi Cyber Park; a quiet corner to read; my blog (writing is cathartic for me); and Starbucks when it just opened in the morning – the smell of coffee and the sound of jazz wafting through the cafe are invigorating plus the place isn’t packed with coffee lovers yet.

The decision to let my wonderful man go was fraught with difficulty and heartache. I struggle through each day not to think about the beautiful time we had together and not harden my heart against the world because of the hurtful words he said. But my self- healing wouldn’t have started if I didn’t. I am walking away because there isn’t anyone to walk towards to. 

CONNOTATION

Merriam-Webster defines “study” as “the activity or process of learning about something by reading, memorizing facts, attending school etc.” But language is a living thing that evolves through the years and the word “study” is no exception. It has gone through an evolution much to the chagrin of the teacher in me.

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taken at Eat Happens

CRAZY SWEETNESS

The adult in me cringed slightly as the sugary beverage landed on our table. But the child in me did a little somersault, excited over the colors and overall look of the drink called Cloudy Rainbow. It is crazy sweetness in a drinking jar: the front view is a fluff of pink cotton candy sitting on top of the jar while the sugary fluff’s behind is a scoop of vanilla ice cream and two cookies floating on a sea of Sprite. A thick layer of aquamarine syrup at the bottom completes the drink.

The ornery adult (due to hunger) was mentally re-christening the drink to Rainbow Cloud which, in her mind, captured the total appearance of the huge sugary cloud peppered with bits of color cereal staring at me. I let the other kid at the table, soon-to-be-10-years-old Christian, savor his Cloudy Rainbow.

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Cloudy Rainbow – poofy cotton candy in front

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Peek behind the Cloudy Rainbow

Now, both the adult and child in me were in collusion that they wanted a piece of the other sweet stuff that made it to our regular haunt, Eat Happens, this eatery at within Grand Galaxy City. We – me, gal pal Theresia, and her son Christian ­– were in the mood for something chocolaty for our martabak, traditionally a stuffed pancake or fried bread from Saudi Arabia, which Eat Happens reworked to suit the sweet palate of the Indonesians. The staff attending to us had her finger on our pulses and zoomed in on a martabak called Martabak Jungle, a circular plate of crazy sweetness. Lying enticingly on the thick pancake, which can be sliced into four or eight pizza-like slices, were toppings that included thick layers of ground Oreo, chunky chocolate, cut up Kit Kat Green tea, and Ovaltine doused with condensed milk.  She also mentioned that we could change any of the toppings, so we swapped the Ovaltine for swathes of Nutella spread.

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Martabak Jungle by Eat Happens

Martabak or a drink, one is in for massive doses of crazy sweetness at Eat Happens.

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Martabak Jungle – crazy sweetness up close

AT THE GYM

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Working out at the gym kept the blues at bay and my sanity intact. Relocating to Indonesia from Singapore, the gym has been my sanctuary from the world when it pushes me to the edge of lucidity. When I feel weighed down by the memories of the past and the empty present, I head to the gym. I signed up with a personal trainer because I was reaching a point when I was hemming and hawing over whether to work out or not. Like providence, Agus was at the gym and gave me a free trial. I felt buoyed after the work out albeit it had me walking stiffly and muttering “Ouch, ouch” every time I’d run up and down the school corridor the next day. We have been working out for 15 months now, four times a week.

There are times when I feel like quitting because the sessions are just too strenuous. It is as if my heart will explode from trying to catch my breath. The workout sessions are gruelling lasting between two hours and a half and three per session. But I persevere knowing that I’d rather endure physical pain, the burning in the muscles, than the pain in my heart. The mental anguish of being alienated, receiving a harshly worded iMessage, and unanswered calls left me reeling in a gamut of emotions that has left me feeling nothing. It has been almost two months since your unexpected radio silence. I look in the mirror and see sad eyes as an icy tightness weaves its way to my chest. I take a deep breath but the exhale is jagged.

Through the months, I have learnt to ride the pain (I channel my inner Bruce Lee) and block the heart-twisting thoughts of him from invading my thoughts. I focus on the breathing, the tension in my muscles, and listen to my inner voice that tells me when I should pause or continue. I love the result when I take a two-minute breather from the exercise variants: my mind is quiet for a few moments as I serenely sit at a corner of the gym.

I like those quiet moments so I do yoga on my non-gym days. I lead a group of my colleagues in a basic yoga routine to ease their aches and pains. The regimen eases the pain of my heart and soul and keeps me from going numb thoroughly. I do have to be mindful of the health of other people. Fortuitously, my breathing has become less jagged as a result of yoga and gym work.

Working out is slowly helping me adjust to the thought that what I had with him was a moment – a beautiful moment that took more than a decade to come to fruition – but I still hold a fervent wish in my heart that the universe would let him come back to me again some day.