Saturday, April 2, 2016

The Traveller

"My greatest dream is to travel more -  and with a purpose; helping and getting involved"
She is one of the most interesting presences on Canberra’s social media. Her warmth and humour irradiate through her posts and one cannot help but like her, even before meeting her in flesh.
She loves being surrounded by people. She loves food and true to herself, she only eats and drinks in 3 places: here, there and everywhere. She takes amazingly vivid and well - composed photos. Above all, she has a great heart. I was first attracted by her consistently beautiful photos. Then by Erna's tongue in cheek self -description: "Hermes taste, eBay budget".
We have been following each other on social media (as you do) without really meeting in real life but what drew me to get to know her was her vibrant online presence. She certainly didn't disappoint: impeccably dressed, hair well-coiffed and oh boy, you should have seen those beautiful heels. I should have taken a photo but I painfully constrained myself, because at times I am having real difficulties in staying within the brief for this project, to keep fair to everyone.
Erna is very humble about herself and she didn’t feel that her story is very interesting. I begged to differ and thus the dialogue ensued.

“– I'm just an ordinary person who just happened to be lucky and get involved in the Human Brochure campaign.

As a child, I wanted to become a famous singer that appears on national TV; I actually wanted to do everything, be the singer and the songwriter, create my own songs and have a voice. Coming out of high school, I realised what that voice should be; I wanted to become a radio DJ. It was simply because I loved to talk but I didn't really have anyone to talk to. I have a big family but the age gap between me, my parents, and my siblings is quite big, so the way we were thinking was quite different. Maybe it was a huge difference; it didn't make me feel connected or related to them, as the youngest child in a family of 9 children. (The closest sister was in high school when I was born, so imagine the gap difference between me and the others).
I didn’t have a plan; I just wanted to be a successful, famous or rich person, to shut the bullies up. I just wanted to be noticed. I worked hard; I had several jobs so that I could afford what I called ‘my dream lifestyle’ - nice clothes, nice handbags and never ending shoes.
When I was little I didn’t have many nice clothes, not that we couldn’t afford it, but my mother didn’t like to spend too much for that sort of things. I only got new clothes on Ied Fitr (One of the most important holidays in Indonesia) or when I won singing or dancing competitions.

My main jobs were marketing for a cheese company and event organiser, while my side jobs were various, from wedding singer to personal buyer and anything in between. Did I have plenty of money back then? Yes and no. I was well paid; however my lifestyle was quite expensive. Social pressure in Indonesia is quite high. You have to dress in a certain way; you have to wear certain brands to be accepted in certain society. In the end, I was a primary school teacher for 2 years. Not that I wanted to; it was purely because of my mother wanted to. I come from an old school family; I had to say “Yes” to whatever my parent and siblings said.

Then one day, I met my husband. He was visiting Indonesia for the first time and didn’t know much about places to go, things to do… A friend asked me to look after him – and I did ever since”.

– Who are you now? - I asked Erna, as I always ask my sitters. 

 ”I consider myself a mature woman now. I see things differently. I used to be obsessed with luxury items but I don't have that feeling anymore. Of course I still love luxury items but it's not something that I have to have it.
I also don't have the urge to compete with other people anymore. I'm quite happy where I am now. I don't need to prove to others. I don't fight to get recognitions anymore. Those tiring days are gone. I am happy with how far I have come. I love who I have become, though sometimes I wish that I could change a few things. Like the way people assume things. For instance, I don’t really talk about my job but if I mention that I work in retail, people automatically assume that I am a checkout chick. I am not. Well, you might see me in the checkout when the store is busy, but I’m not always there. Sometimes I’m hiding in the office, often I’m on the phone talking to our customers. Sometimes I’m just running around the store doing other things.

Then there is this stereotypical profiling. Just because I happened to marry an Australian man, and because I am particular about the clothes I wear, it is sometimes automatically assumed that I am one of those spoilt wives, who are handed everything on a silver plate. I work just as hard and there are many ways I have supported my husband as well. That is how a family works.”

But Erna is much more than that. I see a Traveller. A Photographer. A Professional Social Media Content Producer. If that job doesn’t exist yet, well, they should invent it and award it to her. She recently proved herself by covering Hyatt’s “Masters of Food and Wine” event in a very tasteful way. (my bad pun is being forgiven here, I hope). So I invited her to talk about these aspects of her life.

“I always wanted to see the world; when I was younger I didn’t have many opportunities to do so. My first favourite story was “The Famous Five”; I collected the series. I love them because I wish I were one of them. I wish I had a caravan like them so that I can run away from home.
The beauty of having a retail job is that leave can be quite flexible; I travel quite often. I don't think I could take as many leave days as I do now in other workplaces. I love going to places that are on the unbeaten tracks. I don’t seek for anything particular, other than peace. But I always find something. For example, on my last travel in MarĂ© Island (New Caledonia), I found that people loved music. They made their music and put it into everything; everything was reggae – kind of like Jamaica, as one of my friends told me. It was a great experience.”

My favourite place in the world is Aitutaki, Cook Island. “Island Magazine” crowned Aitutaki as the island with the best lagoon in the world. The locals are really friendly, very much like home, in Indonesia. I found peace there. It’s not crowded and everyone moves out of one’s way when riding scooters. I loved the fact that everyone sees you as family, when you visit. One day, I saw an ambarella tree (or kedondong, in Indonesian). It was full of fruit and I mentioned to a little girl that I want to buy some of the fruit. She told me to just ask the locals for it but I wanted to do the right thing and buy it. I didn’t find it for sale but next day someone put an entire basket outside my door. Things like these make the world so beautiful and worthwhile to explore".

When it comes to dreams, Erna has not just one, but many. “I may come across as a friendly and extrovert person who loves to share everything but actually I'm completely opposite. I don't mind sharing general stuff but I keep my lips tight when it comes to personal stuff.
However, there are a few things that I dream about. My greatest dream is to travel more, especially in the remote islands of Indonesia. But I’d like to travel with a purpose, helping and getting involved. If I win the lottery, or if I have enough money, I’d love to build an orphanage and a hospital. If I’d get my 15 minutes of fame, I'd use it to raise money to build a hospital for the poor in Indonesia. It's really saddening when you're sick and you can't afford the treatment. 

Another personal dream was having children. When I was younger, I pictured myself surrounded by kids and I was imagining all the ways I would spoil them. Sadly, I have learned to accept that living with dysplasia means taking one day at a time. Some days, I cannot do anything due to the pain. Other days are milder. It’s all about accepting that things cannot be changed. I’m perfectly happy living without children or childfree; however sometimes I find it hard when people keep asking when will I start a family or don’t I want to have children. Sometimes I understand why they ask but I don’t feel like having to explain my situation to every single person that asks the same question. And quite frankly, I don’t think I have an obligation to explain it”.

Back in 2013, Erna came across an ad calling for “Human Brochure” chapter 2, which invited 101 locals who lived within 101km diameter of Canberra to share the story of what Canberra has to offer. “This made me think; I applied because I wanted to live that experience and because I wanted to make friends. I felt isolated; the only places I knew at that time were Woden and the City, as we just moved here. Once I got involved, it never stopped. I still miss Brisbane but I have learned to appreciate Canberra. If I had to move back to Brisbane, I would miss the sunrises with hot air balloons so much. I would miss Floriades and oh, the Sunsets - these beautiful sunsets. I would miss the quiet traffic. I frankly cannot picture myself out of Canberra now”. 
Erna’s social accounts are always delivering amazing photographs. As a photographer myself, I am always interested in seeing other people’s work. She is modest and very reluctant to call herself a photographer, yet I think she has a great eye for it. So naturally, I wanted to know more about the way she sees the world.

“When I started on Instagram, I didn’t really like it in the beginning. I only posted photos of sunsets and one day I was sent a ticket to a night photography workshop; it was a nice way to say thank you. I didn’t make it to the workshop, but it was still nice to get recognition. After that, I became involved with Human Brochure Chapter 2, also known as 101 Local Humans. The concept was to have a very strong social media presence. So, now I am totally addicted to it. I used to post every single thing in the beginning. Then I started to be more selective about it. In the past, I just pointed my camera in the direction of anything and everything I found it interesting, without ever considering what my photos would say and how they would be perceived by others. Eventually, I learned that sometimes before pressing the shutter button it’s important to pause, regroup, get your thoughts, and then I just ask myself: - does this picture tell a story? I try to make it so.
You know, in the beginning of 101, they used to call me the Queen of Selfies. I was one of the first to have a selfie stick here - it was kind of my signature. Then one day I decided I had enough. I still do a selfie or two but I try to tell other stories more and more”.

Erna’s take on life is refreshingly honest:
“I never had a role model. I often wished to be someone else but I never had a role model. I believe everyone's journey is different, so I don't need a role model. However a few years ago I met someone on Twitter. She's a famous blogger in Indonesia. Her name is Tika, Atika Nurkoestanti. I quite like her. She's funny and I love the way she tells a story. Eventually I met her in person and we became friends. And that makes me like her even more. I admire her actually. She's never pretended to be someone else. She even opened up that she's battling with bipolar and depression. I was like 'Wow'! You're so brave, girlfriend! Mental health is a big deal in Indonesia. People will judge you if they know that you have depression or anxiety disorder or bipolar. For her to come out like that, she deserves big applauses. Not sure whether Tika is my role model now, but I'm looking up to her, often. And it made it easier for me to finally admit my own depression. I didn't tell anyone about it, not even my husband. Well, I told one of my bosses when I stepped down from my position (because I need a reason to do it). In the beginning, I was too afraid that people would judge me as being weak or ungrateful. Eventually I don't care anymore. I told a few people. The way I see it, depression is like my old jeans, ugly but I wear it comfortably. My take on depression is that we are really good asking others "R U Ok?" but we rarely ask ourselves whether we are ok or not. Or sometimes we knew that we are not Ok, but we are too ashamed to admit it.

My biggest regret in life is that I always say yes when I mean no. Often I wish I let my inner bitch out.

In terms of recently read books, I don’t really have just one favourite. However currently I love a book written by my Indonesian friend, Alexander Thian. The book is called 'Somewhere Only We Know'. The story is about brother & sister's journey to find love. There are so many ups and downs through their journey, and I can relate to some of the scenes that made me ask him 'is it me in your book?'. Of course the answer is no. The other thing that makes me love this book, is Alex’s braveness for writing a gay story (the brother is gay). Even though we heard on the news that Indonesia is a moderate country, the truth is that many people are still against LGBT. For Alex to write a book with a gay scene, that's a big deal”