Archive for the ‘People’ Category

THE HEARTBREAKER 

I started writing this blogpost eons ago, but stopped not because I was choking with memories. Life got in the way, primarily work; there were voluminous essays and other papers to mark. Now, it is a few days before the end of another year, and it is high time to close the narrative that started more than a decade ago. It is the narrative of C. 

C is Charles who used to make my tummy do flip-flops and leave me breathless every time we’d meet. But that is all in the distant past now. I have blocked him from my mind and unfriended him. The late epiphany that our lives shouldn’t have, in the first place, intertwined finally hit me like an anvil dropping to the ground. But he “sauntered” again into my life close at the heels of the memories of my paternal grandparents who left all too soon. His visitation, however, was met with a lot less felicity. He broke my heart. No, let me rephrase that, he blew it to smithereens, and putting it back together took longer than I expected.

How do I describe Charles? As a younger me looking at the world with rose-colored spectacles? Or a maturer me sans the filters? I first met Charles when he was 18. Tall and a bit on the lanky side, he was pulchritudinous with his Chinese-Indian features that had heads turning and hearts throbbing. My head turned and throbbed for more than a decade. He was a young man finding his place under the sun while combatting prejudiced notions about his mixed lineage and life-altering family issues. But he seemed to have handled everything with aplomb or so my younger self thought so.

“Damaged Heart on Old paper” image courtesy of fotographic1980 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

He was certainly above timidity when he sat down at my table in Starbucks and, in a nonchalant manner, asked how I was. I loved the confidence that exuded cockiness, which others completely abhorred earning him the label of blowhard. His face taunted me, silently telling goading me, “So, what are you going to do about it?” Picking up the gauntlet thrown at my table, I offered to buy him a drink, but he declined cocking his head to the left – in the direction of his group of friends – saying that he’s already got a drink. Idle banter ensued. The drink offered did not go unclaimed. It was followed by more coffee dates at Starbucks or Coffeebean, dinners, and movie outings. Younger me loved his company and I thought he did mine too. I was tickled pink when he actually sat through two shows, fighting the urge to walk out and just wait for me at the lobby. The first was a Scooby Doo movie, which seemed tenable for him judging from how he looked – a tiny smirk and mien that said he’d get through the film without keeling over. Naturally, it was payback time when I had to sit through this Hong Kong film starring Stephen Chow that he raved about. He was having a whale of a time and, like him at the Scooby Doo outing, I sat through the flick and survived it. The second show was a ballet, which I am truly into and he wasn’t.

These were some of the happier memories. Some are the heart-breaking ones that make you question yourself, your sanity. Becoming a couple should be a happy memory but it isn’t. Our relationship was short lived and certainly not to be bandied about. I ended it because it was lopsided and my inner voice was telling me he wasn’t into it. We lost touch – why bother to communicate? But the universe has a warped sense of humor making him land in my world again via a text message. He asked me how I was doing. I didn’t give it much thought when I cursorily read it, distracted by the members of Singapore’s water polo team practicing at the pool area, as I waited for my yoga class to begin. Looking at the message again a few minutes later, I felt that tug in my heart. I had deleted his number from my phone but I still knew it by heart. I answered and, as they say, all is history. I found myself on the nerve-wracking roller coaster ride again which I vowed never again to be on. Foolish me, stupid me, vacuous me.

I went through this rigmarole a couple of more times until I entered into a new relationship and had to cut ties with Charles. To his credit, he did pull through a couple of times when I needed a shoulder to cry on and when I needed to rebuild my life after the relationship collapsed. He seemed to have matured or so I thought. I was determined to prove to people – to society even – that people can be friends with their ex, so I rallied on being the best ever best friend. I deluded myself into thinking he saw me as a best friend too.

The warning signs were there but I berated myself for being negative and not giving him a chance despite the fact that it was getting difficult reading the signs. And the statements he would drop during our phone conversations were mind boggling. He actually would call me from overseas – I had relocated to Indonesia from Singapore by then. Statements like “It would be good to feel loved again”, “It would be good to see you” and the like had my mind roiling. I wouldn’t dare drop such statements knowing our past but I brushed them aside, telling myself everything is platonic now. I should have walked away yet I didn’t although I nearly did. It was when he openly blurted out our past to his friend that I had just met when I went to Singapore to visit him then later on blamed me for it. He said I set him up. I was dumbstruck at the accusation, but foolish me, stupid me, vacuous me decided to sweep the incident under the rug. 
Two more incidents had to happen in order for me to decisively put an end to the song and dance. The first one had to do with a request I made to all my friends to send me a birthday card to mark the start of a new decade age wise. He had forgotten: he couldn’t look me in the eye when I jokingly asked him about my birthday card. So much for being my best friend yet I remained hopeful and let it go at that. The second one was the straw that broke the camel’s back. He was scheduled to visit me which I was excited about; we talked endlessly about it over the phone. Then he cancelled it saying he had to report to a training seminar as a new recruit of his country’s national air carrier. I was disappointed and proud at the same time. I certainly didn’t want to be a hindrance to his new career, so I said we could always reschedule. He agreed. All was copacetic until the universe revealed the lie via Facebook. Call it providential, I was able to read an exchange of replies on a Facebook upload that detailed the opposite of what he told me. His training seminar wasn’t on the week I expected him in Indonesia- it was after. He was enjoying his video game that time he was to have caught a plane to Indonesia. Right then and there I closed the chapter on the narrative of C. I finally opened my eyes to the truth that he wasn’t to be counted on, lover or bestie. 

Image courtesy of Geerati at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It is truly cathartic – that I am able to write about him after all those years tells me that this is the closure I have been wanting for in a chapter of my life. I drew courage and inspiration from two women who had taken to writing about their tumultuous relationships. They are author Elizabeth Gilbert who outlined her struggles in her best seller book “Eat, Pray and Love”, and Taylor Swift who turns her experiences into hit songs. It is not meant to be recriminatory although others might think so. I see it as getting something off my chest so I can breathe easier and, pardon the triteness, as a way of finally letting him go. It is also for me to turn a new page in my life. After all, to move on is imperative for a happier life.

THE SAXOPHONE PLAYER

Some are smitten by men in uniform, while some are enchanted by musicians. I belong to the latter group, a knowledge that came much later when I packed my bags for LA to change my routine and the scenery. It dawned on me when I arrived in LA from Arizona.

“Do you know Ric Junasa?” asked my Uncle Rowen, who is pretty good with the guitar himself, as we drove to Plate 38, a gastro pub in Pasadena, one July night.

“Can’t say I have.”

“He was with the band South Border. You know South Border, right? Anyway, we’re going to meet him at Urth Café, one of my favourite places in Pasadena.”

South Border? The floodgate of nostalgia opened and I was thrown back to the days of listening to the ballads of South Border while at work, and the solos of the saxophone player especially in “Kahit Kailan” that had me cresting imagined and real emotions of love.

Of course, I knew of South Border. To not know of South Border was bordering on it being a sacrilegious act! It was the quintessential local jazz-pop-R&B band that my generation and generations after me listened to. The band captured the attention of adults and adolescents alike – uniting the fragmented Filipino listeners divided by social class – and banished the general perception that Filipino love songs were kitsch, low-brow, and maudlin. South Border’s arrival in the music scene with their collage of English and Filipino love songs crooned by a vocalist, whose voice range remains unparalleled in the local scene, changed the music landscape of the youth who were now singing to local songs like South Border’s mega hit “Kahit Kailan” and the iconic “Love of my Life”. An appreciation for local ditties began to take hold – ditties that, naturally, were infused with elements of jazz, pop, and R&B a la South Border which elevated the banal to the sublime, the trite to something fresh.

South Border’s vocalist was one of the factors that drew admirers like moths to the fire. He made it seem effortless to hit those glass-shattering notes which didn’t make one cringe at the forethought that he might croak. He never did. The other is saxophone player Ric Junasa, whose name eclipsed me through the years until my Uncle Rowen dropped a bomb on me by saying they’re friends. The fan girl in me stirred from its deep slumber. Who would have thought my LA vacation would have me hobnobbing with one of Manila’s finest musicians?

IMG_1205

L-R: Ric, Minnie, moi, Mayeth, and Uncle Rowen at Urth Cafe

So, decades later, there is a name for the saxophone player – Ric Junasa. The first meeting was at Urth Café, shortly before it was closing for the night. Ric was cool as a cucumber as he strode, in jeans and shirt, to the table. He shook my hand, sat down, and pondered on what drink to have. Coffee with milk it was. Stories between him and my uncle filled the conversation, while I wondered how and where I could possibly hear him play. Like a wide-eyed school girl seeing her crush in the hall way, I sat  across the table dumbfounded , watching him banter with my uncle about their tepid coffee. Meanwhile, I got to talking to Minnie, Ric’s wife, whom I immediately bonded with because of her knowledge and like for the famed caramel chiffon cake of Estrel’s.

photo op with Ric

Photo op with Ric (in sunnies) at Monterey Park

Ric and family migrated to LA a few years back. Minnie helms the household while Ric is at work (the occupation elided me being so focused on him as the sax player I listened to), and also manages his gig bookings in and out of LA. She also moonlights as a tour guide to relatives coming over for visits. Ric, I learnt, played at my Uncle Rowen’s wedding about two years ago.  (Aside: He can definitely play at my wedding if and when I find a groom.)

I was still fixated with the thought of hearing him play when Christmas came in June. My Uncle Rowen invited him to play at the picnic of the Oriental Mindoro Association at Monterey Park. Fast forward to Monterey Park, Saturday: We greeted each other like long-lost friends. The day was going well, but not fast enough. My cousins, who drove all the way from Gendale, Arizona, and South Border enthusiasts, too, were likewise getting antsy of hearing him play. Finally, the host of the picnic introduced Ric. *applause*

Calm and collected, Ric sauntered to the side. He took a swig of water. He unlocked his saxophone case and, in seconds, the theme song of Titanic circled above the picnic shed of Monterey Park, silencing everyone until the last note.

Ric on the sax 1

Play it again, Ric. *applause*

THE COACH DRIVER 

The glass doors open and in comes this man of Hispanic descent. 
“Who is going to San Francisco?” he asked, his stentorian voice booming in the lobby of Quality Inn and Suites in Walnut City, weaving through the people milling near the entrance and the dining room where several were mid-way through their breakfast. He would stop at a table whose occupants raised their hands earlier on and countercheck their names on his list. The scene continued until he was sure he had ticked off all the names.

“The bus is just outside. Don’t rush – am just early,” he remarked before exiting to load several pieces of luggage.

Ernesto was a breath of fresh air that glided into the hotel that Wednesday morning. There was joviality in his step, a vitality that emanated from his entire being compared to the one behind the reception desk whose sombre mien was like a fluff of dark cloud over your head. Ernesto’s sunny disposition dispelled the tenebrific ambience with his smile that reached up to his eyes. He had vim. He was back in a few minutes and accosted me. Perhaps I had that lost-look on my face.  


“Where are you going?”

“I am going to Disneyland.”

He muttered Disneyland under his breath while perusing his list. I looked at the list, too.

“There’s my name,” I remarked.

“Ah, you join this bus. We go to head office then you transfer to another bus to Disneyland,” he explained.

I never got to engage him in a long conversation except for the usual greetings in Spanish – Hola, Buenos dias – and thanking him for dropping us off at every venue. The longest conversation we had was about the weather.

During the trip to Vegas, he found Jeanne de Kock, my bus mate-turned-friend, and I seeking shade at the side of the bus that was against the sun after we returned from the buffet lunch en route to Vegas.

“You ladies are lucky. It is not that hot today,” he pointed out, running tissue up and down his white shirt. He had spilled coffee earlier on.

“A few days ago it was very hot. The temperature reached up to 110 degrees.”

Our exchanges were always brief, but he was always pleasant. Jeanne managed to talk to him when she was on a three-day trip to San Francisco; Ernesto did the LA-San Fo-LA tour and LA-Vegas-Arizona-Vegas-LA tours regularly. But she was admonished against it.

“He drives slower when you talk to him,” said Angela Lin, the tour guide, tapping her on the arm.

WONDER TWINS

“Some of the students were wondering why I was going into your office so early in the morning,” she narrated with a chuckle when I got into my office. She had texted the previous night asking permission to hang out in my office if she got to school early. I agreed to it, telling her to make herself comfortable even if I wasn’t in yet.

The very idea of Kelcy Gotama entering my office was absolutely unthinkable. It’d be a nightmare for students who are not enrolled in the Cambridge Preparatory Classes (then called International Program) of Global Prestasi School (GPS). Yet here was Kelcy sitting nonchalantly in my office. Without her telling me about the students’ reaction, I could have guessed what others thought: she had flipped her wig and gossiped about as being a teacher’s pet. The situation we were in was reminiscent of my time with her brother, Kelvin, who graduated from the IGCSE Preparatory Class three years ago. Like Kelcy, he remained dauntless in conversing with me. Actually, the siblings became spokespersons of their respective classes, asked to lobby for an extension of a deadline, move an exam date, or ask questions they were afraid to ask.

“So, what brings you to school?” I asked, sitting behind my desk.

“We have a briefing about our farewell party at 8am, but I’m an hour early. Some students were really incredulous when they saw me entering. Actually, some think you’re my favourite teacher.”

“Favourite? Why?”

“It’s because I talk to you.”

“Oh. So, talking to me makes me your favourite teacher?” I asked, my eyebrows furrowing.

“Yes.”

“Odd. We’re just conversing. They can talk to me too if they wanted to.”

The first time I saw the Gotama siblings, on separate occasions, their features belied their relationship. They were the spitting image of each other! Or, putting it another way, they were the female and male versions of each other. That they were indeed siblings was sealed when I glimpsed their identical candidness: both didn’t shy awake from asking questions or putting forward an opinion or fact – a characteristic that certainly went against the grain. They were uninhibited in that way, which put them in my good books, but elicited raised eyebrows from their classmates who were unforthcoming.

Kelcy Kelvin and Liana_ a welfie

Naturally, a welfie after the graduation of Kelcy is in order.

Further nailing their ties was their assiduity, which could only – pardon the cliché – warm the cockles of my heart. No complaints came from the wonder twins, as I had taken to call them secretly, who completed all the worksheets, projects, and whatever was given to them to fulfil the requirements of their English class. These requirements – insightful and creative at that – were handed in always a few days before the deadline! Moreover, speaking before their classmates or any group of people or to persons of authority was almost second nature to them; their presentations weren’t mediocre, too. What I found astounding was their dogged meticulousness: they paid close attention to my corrections so I wasn’t subjected to amending their silly mistakes repeatedly.

They may have been similar, but they were their own person, too. Kelcy is an art aficionado (she won an art competition held by the Japanese embassy in Indonesia) who read and dabbled in graphic design, and, at one time, played the violin. Meanwhile, big brother was into graphic design and gadgets, completely drawn to the scientific wonders of the universe, and reading Edgar Allan Poe. But their collective wonder twins’ prowess was never more obvious than during Kelcy’s graduation on June 11.

Kelcy & Karyssa on graduation day

Kelcy with classmates Karyssa (right) and Liza (left) shortly before the start of graduation

Wonder twins blazed the academic halls of GPS. Ninth grader Kelcy graduated top student in GPS’ Cambridge Preparatory Class (then called International Program) and grabbed second place as the second highest achieving student in the national exam. By the same token, Kelvin was the top IGCSE student garnering three A*s, and the top student achiever when he graduated from grade 12. Now, both shared centre stage as a graduate (Kelcy) and guest student speaker (Kelvin). Kelcy also delivered a speech on behalf of her class right before her brother, shifting effortlessly from Bahasa Indonesia and English, like her brother during his turn.

It’s not every day that siblings who went to the same school and graduated years apart take centre stage together in a night. The feelings surging through me as I sat inside GPS Theatre was hard to pinpoint. At first, it was a throwback to my childhood days of the Wonder Twins who were so in synch in thinking and demeanour except this time they were on stage addressing a crowd of parents and peers. Then I felt a wave of pride engulf me: they have transmogrified into mature and rational individuals. Next, I felt a tinge of sadness (is this what parents feel?) as I gazed at them – they were no longer children. Kelcy is an incoming GPS IGCSE Preparatory Class student and Kelvin is a second-year med student (international program) at the prestigious University of Indonesia.

Kelvin Kelcy and Liana_post grad op

Another photo with the Wonder Twins – it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Lastly, a flood of happiness overwhelmed me. Just like the blue moon, it’s not a regular occurrence when wonder twins deconstruct teaching as a thankless profession.

THE STUDENT, THE ENTREPRENEUR

She had a serious demeanour when I saw her. Let me re-state that: I didn’t really see her. It was my boss, Ibu Rini, the director of the Cambridge Preparatory Classes at Global Prestasi School (GPS), who saw her. I only visualised the scenario in my mind when she related her meeting with a little girl with the serious mien. I saw her much later in class. Ibu Rini narrated that she was pleased to have met up with the young girl who was far from diffident and spoke fluently in English. Rucksack slung on her back, she marched into her office, introduced herself as Nadia, and asked to be placed in the grade 7 Cambridge Preparatory Class that day. She didn’t know that such a class existed and had her mum known she was certain that her mother would have signed her up for it too alongside the local class. Her resoluteness, I believed, impressed my boss – she wasn’t going to take no for an answer.

Nadia and Indira

Nadia (right) and gal-pal Indira when they were in grade 8 in Bali during English Camp

The incident was seven years ago when she and her family returned to Indonesia from Shanghai for good. Nadia Kris Sigit – Nadia or Nat Kris to friends and classmates – became part of the Cambridge Preparatory Class, dazzling everyone with her brilliance and wit. Now, she’s a high school graduate and waiting for the first semester of college to start this September. She’s enrolling in Business Management at the new satellite branch of Binus International at Summarecon Bekasi.

“It’s like everything fell into place!” Nadia exclaimed the afternoon I chanced upon her at Eight Coffee. “It saves me the time commuting to and from Jakarta to attend school. Moreover, our office is near the school so I can either go there or at here if I have free time in between classes.”

Nadia at Eight Coffee

The high school graduate and soon-to-be college freshman, Nadia

In the meantime, in the midst of observing Ramadan, Nadia is engrossed in the family business. Her parents own and manage Eight Coffee, a café specialising in the varied types of Indonesian coffee, and one of her tasks is making sure the café doesn’t run low on banana cakes. They are her speciality, be it chocolate, cheese, raisin or original; they are served oven-hot with a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream at the café. (Aside: The banana cake is splendid with cappuccino.)

“I’m still perfecting my cupcakes,” she quipped.

Added the Benedict Cumberbatch admirer: “I’m also looking into getting nicer boxes for the banana cakes, as well as designing a logo for the boxes.”

Eight Coffee is located at Jalan Puloh Sirih in Galaxy City. It’s a terrific breakfast place for the early risers, being open by 6am and ready with their American, Classic Continental, and Indonesian breakfast sets; a cosy nook to read while sipping a cappuccino, iced or hot; and splendid venue for meetings, social or otherwise. My favourite spot is the corner from the entrance. It’s a two-seater table that gives me a view of everyone who goes in and out of Eight Coffee, and feng shui-wise, my back is to the wall so I feel protected. It’s also a short walk to the food counter.

Bone-idle was never – it still isn’t – part of Nadia’s vocabulary. It is an anachronism to her entire existence, which made her stand out in the pioneer batch of the Cambridge Preparatory Class (then called International Program) of GPS. For instance, assignments were done properly and handed in before the deadline. Her research paper in grade 10 English was structured well and packed with insightful analysis. Diligence aside, class discussions were a cinch for her – she had vignettes and conjectures to delight the class. She was also always prepared for Show-and-Tell, making herself the competition to be dethroned in terms of content, fluency, and interactive communication. However, her culinary inclination was a more recent discovery. I was oblivious to it until a business project in her 12th grade where she, together with her classmates, set-up something akin to a farmers’ market albeit smaller. Nadia’s group sold her banana cakes which were cut into bite-size squares, packed in twos in a paper bag (or was it a box?), and tied with a twine bow. The cakes sold out in less than an hour! Ever since that project, I’ve been a regular banana cake client, ordering boxes as treats for my students during our extra sessions. Verdict: the chocolate banana cake is a big hit among them.

Nadia’s not resting one bit although the banana cake is a feather on her toque. She’s knee-deep in two family business projects: a floral shop named Dianita Florist and a deli called Bacassie.

flower arrangements by Dianita Florist

Flower arrangements for any occasion by Dianita Florist – it’s opening soon

“The space is too small for my bakeshop so my mum decided to turn it into a floral shop. She took flower arrangement classes in Shanghai when we lived there,” explained the Bruce Lee enthusiast. “I like doing something creative, so I’m helping with the sourcing out of packaging, décor, flowers, etc.”

Continued the bookworm: “We are also looking into launching the Bacassie Deli soon. The name is patterned after the old spelling of Bekasi. We’ll have sandwiches that will complement the coffee we serve, and we hope to open after Lebaran.”

Bacassie Deli Interior

Bacassie Deli will be serving sandwiches soon.

On a personal note, Nadia has started a blog – nadiasigit.wordpress.com – that she had to put on the back burner when she was in grade 12. Now that she has some time on her hands, she’s parking herself behind her laptop these days.

The little girl has grown up. The young student is slowly transforming into an entrepreneur and, as her former teacher, all I can do is stand, beam with pride, and watch her conquer the world one coffee or banana cake or sandwich at a time.

THE SINGER

“Are you watching Fortals, Miss?” enquired Amanda, her eyes beaming with anticipation.

“Yes, I am. However, I am not quite familiar with the singers,” I said.

“You should go, Miss,” urged Amanda, “You should watch Teza Sumendra.”

“Yes, Teza Sumendra, Miss. He is good!” piped in Bagus, a classmate of Amanda, who, like her, was obviously an admirer of the young Indonesian jazz-R&B singer.

That he is a good Indonesian jazz singer was all I knew of him because that phrase was what people were throwing at me every time talk centred on the featured artists at Fortals Jazz Festival. To recapitulate, Fortals is an annual music festival organized by the senior high students of Global Prestasi School which kicks off with inter school futsal and basketball competitions and culminates with a concert featuring Indonesian singers and bands. This year’s Fortals focused on the jazz genre for the concert.

The screen is as close as you can get to Teza Sumendra if you are nowhere near the stage.

The screen is as close as you can get to Teza Sumendra if you are nowhere near the stage.

Piqued by the fervid recommendation, I searched through YouTube to get a glimpse of Teza Sumendra. It was one jaw-dropping discovery, which stoked my eagerness to watch him live on stage. His deep, gravelly voice is a definite head turner: it stops you in your tracks and beckons you sexily to face him and listen to him. It is as if the world suddenly disappeared, leaving only the two of you. His cover of Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” was astonishing. Each word rang clearly thus the message was transparent. The video where he sang a duet with Indonesian song bird Raisa was cute, to say the least. It never crossed my mind that a jazz version of “Once Upon a Dream” , the main song from Walt Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty”, could actually be possible and, surprisingly, vitalizing. In the midst of marking papers, I suddenly was gripped with the urge to waltz through my office. Then there were his terpsichorean skill that was sharp and smooth.

That Teza was going to be one of the guest artists at Fortals Jazz Festival (held last October), alongside Maliq and the Essentials and Abdul and the Coffee Theory, was something to really look forward to. And there was no prize for guessing who won over the hearts most of the young concert goers – Teza Sumendra was their idol of the night, who rocked the stage with his vibrant covers of trending pop songs (think Bruno Mars, Niki Minaj et al), his own compositions, and definitely brought the house down when he danced to Silento’s “Watch me Whip” with his band, The Stepbrothers and Stepsisters.

Teza Sumendra and The Stepbrothers hit the stage at Fortals Jazz Festival 2015 to ear-splitting screams

Teza Sumendra and The Stepbrothers hit the stage at Fortals Jazz Festival 2015 to ear-splitting screams

I was in complete agreement when a friend blurted out, “OMG! He can sing all night or just stand there. I wouldn’t mind at all!”

Actually, I was a couple of steps ahead. I was thinking of him being my wake-up call.

Fortals Jazz Festival was more than two months ago and I still find my thought drifting back to that fantastic night. Teza was pure entertainment on stage who, on hindsight, took me back to Filipino singer Gary Valenciano. Christened Mr. Pure Energy, Gary’s vivacity in performing on stage was unparalleled. Like Teza, he could sing and dance with relative ease and agility. The Man could move, groove, rap, and croon! The only difference between the two, I surmised, is the vocal quality – Teza has a deep, throaty voice compared to Gary’s higher timbre. Nonetheless, both electrified the night, making each second pulse with enthusiasm.

(Photography by Yana)

SISTERS

Side by side or miles apart,

sisters will be connected by the heart.

– Picturequotes.com

Even if she didn’t tell me I could see that they were related. One of the tell-tale signs was the posture – their shoulders were always pulled back and their gait sure and solid. Then there was the hair; both had a head of curls that disappeared when they pulled everything back into a bun. Lastly, the smile. It was that kind of smile that showed all the pearly whites and reached up to the eyes making them twinkle. I knew the younger one, Theresia, because I had been working with her for almost six years. That she is the younger one was something I had learnt that day she introduced me to her older sister, Ma Ita, when we landed in Ambon in June.

The sisters enjoying the sun, sea, and breeze around Ora Island, Ambon

The sisters enjoying the sun, sea, and breeze around Ora Island, Ambon

The relationship between siblings has always fascinated me. There are those who are thick as thieves, such as these sibling-students of mine. Big sister, I noted, would always patiently wait for her younger sister whose class would run beyond regular school hours. Not a hint of vexation crossed her face. Her aura, in fact, showed pure affability. And there are those who, if they could, would totally disown their siblings for one reason or another. Then there are those who seemed to be distant on the surface and not care about each other, but the truth couldn’t be further than the truth. When a dire situation presents itself, the sister relationship is activated.

Ma Ita and Theresia are thick as thieves, each completely there for the other. Physical attributes aside, there are differences that distinguish one from the other. While Theresia is comfortable with speaking English, something she quickly picked up at work, Ma Ita shies away from me, the English-speaking friend of her sister. To my credit, I did my best to converse with her in my broken Indonesian and we did although they were short chats. Ma Ita, like Theresia, had a knack for posing for photographs; the latter though has the added gift of directing a photo shoot that actually made for fun times and Instagram-perfect shots. As for culinary skills, I’ve been privy to Ma Ita’s delectable dishes which even Theresia ate with gusto. The Ambon condiment of colo-colo, a dish of red and green tomatoes with chillies, lemon juice, and a dash of sugar and salt, has a distinctive Ma Ita touch that is unparalleled by the restaurants in Ambon. I have yet to taste Theresia’s cooking. But both are easily at home with groups of people chatting with them like long-lost friends that even a complete stranger, like me, forgot she was a newcomer into their circle of friends and family.

Siblings, as a rule of thumb, should look after one another, but reality always has a way of reworking rules in today’s world wallowing in animosity, to say the least. These sisters breathe new life to what it means to be connected by blood, by heart and soul, and through the distance. They remind people that what they think is clichéd rings true after all –that blood is thicker than water.