Archive for the ‘When the Blues Hit’ Category


Some say the coffee isn’t the real deal especially if you’re a hard core coffee drinker. Others say it’s quite expensive for just a Frappuccino or hot latte. A handful find it a convenient spot for meeting up and there are those who find it a great place to work. Case in point is my gal-pal – we go way back in high school – Melie when we caught up with each other one weekend. She was working in Starbucks Greenbelt while waiting for me. Apparently, she learnt and revealed to me that one is more productive while working in a café. Working or meeting up with someone, hard core coffee drinker or not, Starbucks is my happy place.

Starbucks drinks_resized

a smile and a friendly note awaits you at Starbucks [Starbucks, Tomas Morato]

It all goes back to when I found myself living in a new country and walloped severely by homesickness, cultural isolation, and discrimination. It was my first time to be living apart from my family and the whole routine of being on my own was both exhilarating and unnerving, to say the least. On top of homesickness, I was culturally isolated – being a self-absorbed careerist wasn’t how I was raised to be. I didn’t believe in going up the ladder of success by stepping on others which put me greatly at odds with a whole lot of people. Then there’s my nationality that triggered my first experience of discrimination. The preconceived notion that Filipinos were only meant to be domestic helpers had preceded me unknowingly as well as all the stereotypes of being a woman that I thought had been deconstructed.

Starbucks, on hindsight, was the one place that I could piece back my fragmented self together quietly. Every single day was a battle against homesickness that left me weary and which was compounded by being treated as the peculiar one in the group to put it mildly. The Starbucks near my workplace then was a serendipitous find. There were no weird glances from the baristas to make you feel that you shouldn’t be in their country or any put-upon behaviour to take my order. It was just simple human decency: a simple warm greeting of “Good morning” or “Good afternoon” and what I would like to drink or eat that day. I didn’t have to constantly fear that someone was hatching a nefarious plan to make me the scape goat for their failure or put up with hypocrisy – you know when they smile at you and then stab you at the back minutes later. My visits to this Starbucks reached a point when I just showed up at the counter, exchanged pleasantries with the baristas which eventually became longer chit-chat that did wonders for my soul, and head to a table with my caramel macchiato. I didn’t need to say my name or my order anymore. A smile particularly one that goes beyond the lips and crinkles the eyes does have this energising effect on a person.

I’ve since relocated to another country where I’ve learnt to let my guard down and view humanity in a less jaded way. I still frequent Starbucks because it still remains my happy place; the baristas, store manager, and even the security guard still exude that affability which is more than welcomes. At Starbucks, I sew clumsily my tattered soul, chase away the negative thoughts gnawing on my thoughts, and glue back my shattered heart. It is also where I do most of my work, thinking of which stories to assign, new topics to write on, and new punishments for my students. Lastly, it is where I catch my breath after a tongue-on-the-floor workout with Pak Agus. I have a cup of no-sugar cappuccino or caramel macchiato with non-fat milk or soya when I remember to say it to the genial Starbucks barista.



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. 



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.



a place to breathe and suspend sad thoughts

I watch her as she walks down the halls, her weary eyes almost blank, and her shoulders struggling not to slope down. She must keep up appearances of a cheery disposition that actually belies a mind tormented by anguish and a heart buffeted by the opposite end of Cupid’s love arrows. She has tried to push the thoughts – of him, of what went wrong – from her mind, but like a boxer trapped in a vice, the blows rain heavy and incessantly. She tells me her heart’s agonies, which break mine as well, but all I can offer are words of solace that seem ineffectual in easing the dull throb. I know her; no, I know her very well. She never goes into something without her entire heart, she takes risks, and her understanding is to the point of fault. Unknown to him, it took her seven years to give her heart to another one having turned into an unreconstructed hard-liner against intimacy. Who could fault her? Blinded by Cupid, she followed and waited for this man who had awakened her love but had no intention of loving her in return. She wasn’t into playing games, but he was. She had realized only after she felt that hard twinge in her chest as if a hand had plunged into it and grabbed hold of her heart and, within a blink, yanked it out. Wide-eyed, she had watched him cast it aside like cotton waste. Never again, she vowed to herself. Never again will anyone have her heart, she told herself. But the universe has had always a soft spot for her, a spot for making light of her decisions and making her believe everything would turn out all right, but, like a well-crafted Poe story, would end on a saturnine note.

Now, she is dealing with the risk of having opened herself to the possibility of love – something she dared not talk about because of the inopportune situation and timing. She wakes up every day with a tightness in her chest and an urge to cry but no tears roll down. She has difficulty in breathing and is assailed by throbbing pains in her stomach. She is wallowing in wretchedness with each passing day. She has been shunned because of a perceived slight on his part which caught her off guard. She would never hurt him! Reeling from the painful brush-off, she turns the exchange of messages in her mind hoping to find an opening to explain again or for that abrupt and painful closure to a budding relationship. She argues with herself inside her head: she, of all people, knows when to back off from a situation that is fraught with drama. She actually runs away from drama: it’s a trait she inherited from her mother. She could be a drama queen if she really wanted to, but she only sees the futility in such a role.

She’s not fatuous having learned from her mistakes. What her intelligence cannot comprehend at this point is the spitefulness of the universe. She is no angel. She is far from perfect, but she has striven to not commit the same mistakes she did during those years she calls blinded vacuity. Ironically, it is the year of the Rooster – her year – and it’s off to roaring start. She doesn’t want to be mired again in emptiness and self-doubt. She knows she didn’t make a mistake this time, but why won’t he listen to her? Why won’t he talk to her? I am at a lost too at what to say to her to alleviate the silent pain running up and down in her. I can only tell her to not forgo her workout regimen with her personal trainer because happy hormones are good for her. Then there’s the beginner’s yoga class she leads, which, thankfully, I see her doing with alacrity.

The last time we met she told me she has found a respite from the steady barrage of her sad thoughts. She has a found a cozy nook where her past and present can’t get to her. It’s a breathing room she hides in which helps her to suspend the ugly thoughts doing the cha-cha on her heart and mind. I praised her for it – the universe knows she needs a break from its battering.


Who would have thought that an hour plus of Cumberbatch and a cup of churros would banish the blues? Trust my gal-pal to know the remedy when I once again hit rock bottom. It is just one of those days when fatigue from work and working out, a whole day weekend of teacher training, and missing my wonderful man like crazy coalesced to pull me down to one of the nadirs of my life. Gal-pal Fistri came to the rescue with plans to catch Benedict Cumberbatch in Dr Strange at Bugis Plus mall on Victoria Street. Originally, it was just to meet up over a cup of Monster Ice cream – picture a mountain of soft serve vanilla ice cream wrapped in caramel popcorn – but the doctor thought eye candy would do the trick. The eye candy treatment was effective! Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr Strange worked; I take this to mean that he was able to create a persona that had no traces of his rendition of the quintessential detective, Sherlock Holmes. And he had this wonderful chemistry with the Cape of Levitation.

The cup of mini churros was a serendipitous find as Fistri and I rode the escalator down to the first floor after the movie. Tucked in a little corner of the fourth, at the foot of the escalator, is Churro 101. Like a moth drawn to the fire, I quickly gravitated to it much to the surprise of Fistri. It is like the Californians who go agog over In-and-Out burgers because it reminds them of home. Churros throws me back to my un-jaded self particularly to the time I first set foot in Disneyland Anaheim. I walked around the happiest place on Earth munching on a long, thick churros drizzled with cinnamon-sugar. The version of Churro 101 is, I find, more practical. They’ve cut up the churros into bite-size pieces, placed them in a cup, and included two stick pokers for you to eat them without having to dirty your fingers. Verdict: the cinnamon-sugar churros was just right, not too sweet, not too bland, not greasy or tough. 

A cup of churros to chase the blues away

Fully medicated with a dose of Cumberbatch and churros, I climbed easily back to the ne plus ultra of life. 

No. 16

“You must take a number,” said Indra as I walked pass him to get to the ladies’ locker room.

“Number? What number?”

“It is for spinning class, for the bike,” he explained, pointing to the table opposite the men’s locker room where his colleague was seated and watching over strips of numbers arranged neatly. The number man, as I had secretly taken to calling him, would be at his station between 5 and 510pm waiting for cyclists to pick one up. Without much thought I selected number 16 and, being a creature of habit, I’d always picked number 16 and appropriated the bike as “my” bike.

Indra, one of the spinning instructors, had been urging me to attend spinning class every time he’d see me at the gym. I had return to Helios gym at Cyber Park Bekasi last June but I wasn’t that keen on attending spinning class. I had attended the class years ago but I wasn’t ready; I knew I would as soon as collapse after a few minutes on the bike. Eventually, I bit the bullet and relented to hop on a bike. Ever since then spinning class has become my panacea, the source of the much vaunted happy hormones I needed to get through the days of listlessness and ennui.

There was a time engaging in persiflage would lift my flagging spirit – repartees gave me a thrill but then my verbal jousting partner had started his first year in medical school at University of Indonesia and no one was left to pick up the gauntlet. Repartee is more difficult and less satisfying over WhatsApp. Gawking at the jeunesse dorée did distract me too from my worries – it is like flipping through a glossy magazine – until it hit me that I am almost penurious compared to them. So, what do you do when you are feeling as if someone pulled the rug from under you? Being patient was one colleague’s suggestion. Another told me to tuck into sinfully delicious red velvet cake or Baskin and Robbins ice cream or Excelso’s banana frappio. Fortunately, Indra badgered me into attending spinning class which gave that much-needed diversification in my workout.

Diversity in workout, I read in an article in, is a must for people who want to get more out there of their workout. Said Ingrid Nelson, a personal trainer in Washington, D.C., and founder of the ING Group personal training, in the article The One Thing All Personal Trainers Tell Their Clients to Do More Of: “Even minor tweaks, like doing squats or pushups for a set period of time instead of number of reps, keep your muscles guessing and working in new ways, which improves strength.”

It was also written in the article that “in a small study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, researchers found that participants who followed a varied workout routine (including resistance training, sprint intervals, stretching/yoga/Pilates and endurance exercise) and ate whey protein lost more weight, lost more fat mass, and gained more lean body mass than those who combined the protein with resistance-only strength training or only consumed the protein.”

Spinning class is conducted every day of the week at Helio in Bekasi Cyber Park.

Spinning class is conducted every day of the week at Helio in Bekasi Cyber Park.

So, following the experts’ advice, I have added regular spinning classes to my exercise bag of weights and yoga for a well-rounded workout routine. For 30 minutes, three or four times a week, I pedal and huff and puff plus curse under my breath while following the moves of Indra or Rini or Carin who barked orders to pedal faster, increase the tension, or go up and down in Indonesian. After each session, I feel as svelte as Heidi Klum and an Indonesian phrase wiser – ambil nafas (roughly translated as inhale, exhale) is now part of my vocabulary.


“Hot yoga? How hot does it get?” she asked over Hangouts.

“Imagine doing yoga in a sauna,” I wrote flippantly, adding a smiley emoticon.

I should have followed it up with a rational explanation that it wasn’t that hot as a sauna – it’s at least half or less the temperature of a sauna allowing you to do the asana for 90 minutes.

Hot yoga for flexibility, clearer mind, and slimmer physique (sculpture of woman doing a bow pose at Hot Yoga-Studio Leona)

Hot yoga for flexibility, clearer mind, and slimmer physique (sculpture of woman doing a bow pose at Hot Yoga-Studio Leona)

Hot yoga provided succour when I was beset by anxieties and doubts at one point in my life. But it has been a while since my last hot yoga session, so after five-plus years, I finally stepped into a hot yoga studio filled not with anxiety and doubt, but a desire to practice it again. Call it serendipity, but my hotel reservation included a session of hot yoga – super! I had always wanted to go back to a studio but there was no strong impetus for it until my brief April sojourn to Bali. Hotel Puri Tempo Doeloe had a nice yoga package tied in with Hot Yoga Studio Leona – book three nights’ stay at the hotel and enjoy a free hot yoga session.

Who wouldn't be challenged to do Hot Yoga when you see these "women"? -Yoga garden, Hot Yoga-Studio LEONA

Who wouldn’t be challenged to do Hot Yoga when you see these “women”? -Yoga garden, Hot Yoga-Studio LEONA

I was stoked to conquer the 50 poses of the Absolute Hot Yoga series in 90 minutes. Possibly losing several calories plus gaining flexibility and strength also provided the push. Classes are seven days a week, twice a day, one in the morning and one in afternoon, except on Tuesdays and Saturdays where hot yoga is replaced by capoeira while Sunday only has one session in the afternoon. The studio is within the hotel premises; it is to your left if you’re coming from one of Hot Puri’s wooden Gladak room or suite, or private villa. It is easy to spot because the little garden at the entrance to the studio is peppered with sculptures of voluptuous women in various yoga poses.

Yoga women sculptures_camel pose at the back and

I chose the 530pm class on Friday and followed the advice listed on the leaflet to the letter.

  • Arrive 15 minutes before the class.
  • Bring a towel and water.
  • Avoid a big meal two hours before class.
  • Dress as light as possible – think tank top and shorts or leggings.
  • Drink plenty of water before and after class.
  • Have fun.

Yogi Chris was genial. He greeted the newcomers to class, telling them to take it easy and to look at the person in front if things got confusing. Then, in his Jude Law-like voice, class finally got underway.

Hot Yoga -Studio LEONA

Hotel Puri Tempo Doeloe

Jl. Bypass Ngurah Rai 209 Sanur, Bali, Indonesia

Tel: 0361 286542

FB: hot yoga-studio leona