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I’m currently in the back seat of a Bluebird taxi, with my to-go coffee in the cupholder. While taking notes on my iPhone, I take slow, careful sips of my coffee so the hot steam does not burn my mouth. After an eight-hour train ride from Yogyakarta, I arrived in Jakarta — again.
I have been to the Big Durian countless times. Do I love it or dislike it? I can’t say. My thoughts rush when I think of the metropolis of Jakarta. Its ten million inhabitants make it one of the most congested capital city in the world. At 7.47am, the Jakarta morning rush is the perfect introduction to the city. “Macet” (traffic jam, in Bahasa Indonesia) is one of its most common sights. I read somewhere that Jakartans were estimated to spend a total of 22 days a year on the road due to heavy traffic jam. That’s more than three weeks! But every Jakartan just got used to it, as I should. The first Mass Rapid Transit (MRT), which is 16-km long, was finally launched in March 2019. With the city’s burgeoning population, the MRT seems like the better commute option.
In the midst of chaotic Jakarta, my mind transports back to my home city, Kuala Lumpur. Not that I miss it, but just noticing the similar vibes these two cities share. Our languages sound similar, coming from the same roots, so we can understand each other very well. We can’t eat rice without sambal (spicy chilli paste) and we celebrate coffee. Our cultures share similar traits, and we enjoy sports, fashion and the arts with the same gusto. Malaysia and Indonesia are essentially two developing Southeast Asian countries in direct competition with each other, in the Nusantara sense. But as a Malaysian, I won’t be biased. Kuala Lumpur is home, and the first time I went to Yogyakarta, it felt like home, too.
I have never chosen a location to be a theme for this magazine, but after six volumes, why not? I decided to choose both Malaysia and Indonesia as this volume’s theme. As someone with both Malay and Java heritage mixed, this volume would be a special dedication to my perception of my homeland and its unique relationship with its sibling nation.
I met an interesting mix of people who are doing amazing things in Indonesia — from Naufal and Azra of campervan trip provider Nuvantara and Iwan and Ria of the Papermoon Puppet Theatre in Yogyakarta, to ceramic artist Fauzy and his team at the Kandura Studio and Hadi and Julius of independent magazine Manual Jakarta. I also stumbled upon intimate stories about life in the Special Region of Yogyakarta, from the perspective of a local and an outsider. My delightful and insightful time in Indonesia wouldn’t have been possible without independent creative enthusiasts Gram and Pangga. Thank you for your outstanding hospitality, introducing Indonesia through an independent lens.
In Malaysia, I met Munir Shaari in Pangkor Island, a man driven to rediscover his Malay heritage through a passion project called Misi Mencari Melayu. BONUS: After more than 10 years from my last visit, I got to explore the island again! In Kuala Lumpur, I caught up with my good friends from The Alphabet Press to talk about their work with ana tomy (I loved their new space in The Zhongshan Building!). In Kuala Terengganu, I met batik maker Nisa of Nysakapas, a city girl who moved to the Malaysian East Coast in pursuit of love and dreams.
This volume also features a perceptive narration of a journey from Behrang, Perak, to Kota Kinabalu in Sabah as well as a nostalgic anecdote of a father-daughter relationship with each other and their surroundings.
Oh, in case you didn’t notice, I chose a new colour for this volume’s cover. I’m excited about these new changes, and I hope you would be, too. As 2019 is concluding, I bid it farewell with excitement and gratitude.
Goodbye, 2019. You’ve been amazing.
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