It’s a fine morning in Bandung with the sun streaming through the window. The scenery out there probably will not impress ordinary tourists expecting to see graceful mountain surrounding the city or greeneries. My window overlooks houses, all cramped together like fifty people squishing inside a small room – layers and layers of houses without a clear beginning or an end. To me, however, this is the Bandung that I know – a hectic, crowded city that used to be called Parijs van Java.
I have been in Indonesia for less than a week – to visit my eldest sister in Bandung who is suffering from an advanced stage of cancer. This was not a planned trip at all as I am now in the thick of writing and completing my thesis and as I am planning to head to Indonesia in December for my niece’s wedding. However, I was advised that it would be wise for me to head here, to see my sister and give her some support. So I flew here on Wednesday – and spent some days in Jakarta with Mum, my 2nd and 3rd sister’s families. I also had a great opportunity to join a reunion for Citibankers who worked in Citibank, Indonesia within the 1998-2005 period. I left Citibank, Indonesia in 2000 so I am still part of the group. 🙂 I was too late to register for the reunion as I was not planning to come to Indonesia, but a good friend of mine, Lucia Hartono, graciously offered her spot to me as she couldn’t make it to the reunion. It was great to catch up with old friends and colleagues – and to see my previous bosses who I still respect dearly. It was also fun to see the frivolities that only Citibankers can show – but being there, I realised that I had moved on from the old days. Don’t get me wrong, I still love corporate life – but to return to the ‘old ways’, perhaps it’s not for me anymore. I’d love to work with my old colleagues again but time marches on and as much as I thought I could hold on to the romanticised ideas of being back in the good old days, well, I don’t think it’s possible anymore …
So here I am in Bandung. I saw Erly – my eldest sister – yesterday. She wept when she saw me and my 2nd sister and she even asked us whether she was going home. We couldn’t say anything. My 2nd sister then asked her whether she was scared – to which Erly said, No. I hold on to the faith and hope, but I am prepared for whatever is in store for the whole family. I went there again in the evening to be with my brother in law and just to lend my moral support while I’m here.
It dawned on me as well that I wouldn’t know whether my goodbye before I head back to Jakarta and on to Adelaide – would be my last adieu. A lot of things can happen between August and December. The rest of my siblings commented how much she had deteriorated from last week. Of course we did all we could to make her feel well again – by obeying the oncologist’s orders but we slowly have to muster enough strength to be prepared for whatever comes our way.
Being with my family again reminds me how much life is precious. My eldest sister has been hospitalised for around a month now and in that period, she hasn’t even held her first grandson. He was born on August 1st, and I feel for the baby as I do for my sister. I also feel for Irene, who is caught between two family members – her mum and her newborn son. Often times, life can’t be arranged into smaller manageable boxes. It comes in a big rush that you just have to hold on to whoever and whatever that you can hold and save. Times like this also reminds me of the true cost of migration and chasing your own dreams and aspirations – as much as it is personally fun and rewarding for leading your life abroad, the opportunity cost is astronomical. You miss the opportunities of being with your family who are sick or in need – and you can’t be with them when they celebrate life’s milestones. It’s these precious moments that you miss – and are often forgotten when you chase your dream away from your family.
Give your loved ones a hug – or just be there for them. I couldn’t sleep well for the last couple of nights – I may still be adjusting to the new environment, but I could still hear my eldest sister as she beckoned me to taste her kidney bean soup or beef rendang. She knows how much I love her cooking. It’s these images and sound that I carry with me and something that are so much in contrast with the person who I see here in Bandung.
Life is precious.