A letter to my car

Dear 2002 Honda City,

You were never my first choice. I had my eyes fixed on a brand-new top-of-the-range Metropolitan Gray Ford Fiesta. But something happened and I no longer had enough money for a new car, and that’s when I was introduced to you.

The decision to hook up with you was purely intellectual. You used to belong to a good friend of a good friend, which means you’re unlikely to be a lemon with artificially reduced mileage. You were always protected by first class insurance and had your regular checks at the Honda doctors.

But you’re not the year, make, or colour that I like. Not even close. You even have these ugly “gold” door locks topped with a fake zirconia diamond (which would continue to be a source of ridicule among friends).

You were not a car I was proud of. You were a functional purchase, a mode of transport to get me from point A to B sheltered from the rain and the sun. When parking in tight spaces, I have to manually fold in your side mirrors. You don’t even have cupholders for my iced chocolate!

In the 18 months that we’ve been together, I was never faithful. Working in a car company made it even worse. Sleeker models turned my head while I lusted after younger cars. I was ever ready to dump you and jump ship if the chance arose.

Now that the opportunity has come knocking, I find myself strangely loathe to part with you. I’ve grown accustomed to you and your little quirks. Like my old PJs, you’ve seen me at my worst. The True Red Fiesta would probably be less forgiving of my tatty shorts and tattier slippers.

Most importantly, you are all mine. Every screw, every scratch. I don’t owe anyone anything for you. And you’ve been a good partner. No tempers, no tantrums. It might not have been love at first sight but you’ve found your way into my heart as my very first car.

Your recalcitrant owner


To Danau Toba and back


When I was told that it would take about four hours to get to Parapat, I didn’t think very much about it at all. Probably at the back of my head, I was thinking of the four-lane open roads between Bangkok and Hua Hin.

There were two lanes though – one for each direction. And it was like that most of the time, little wonder why it takes four hours for 175 km. This also resulted in some hair-raising overtakes and gave new meaning to driving on the road shoulder.

Lake Toba is one of the deepest volcanic lakes in the world and In the middle of it is Samosir island, which is about the size of Singapore. Can’t imagine what it was like more than 30 years ago when my aunt came here for her honeymoon.

The lake is truly beautiful and still largely unspoilt. Yes there were a few stalls advertising magic mushrooms and happy pizza but at least the island hasn’t gone the way of Pai in Thailand or Vang Vieng in Laos, overrun by backpackers looking to get high on cheap beer or whatever’s on offer.


If you get out of Tuk Tuk, the corner of the island colonised by the tourists, you immediately step into a local world where fields are still being tended, and where the buffalo walks the field with its good friend perched on its back.


You also step into a world of old, where the Bataks used to eat human flesh, “seasoned with lime and salt”, as overheard from a guide. The arrival of the Lutheran missionaries put an end to such practices, and today the Batak people practise an indigenous form of Christianity. I am guessing Samosir Island has the highest density of churches in the world. There is literally a church every 50 metres.

The other intriguing thing about this island of the dead is the tombs that are here, there and everywhere (I still can’t decide if there are more churches or graves).These were no simple tombs, each one was like a memorial. Some even had a view that the living would kill for.


I also had a stunning view of the lake from Samosir villa resort, where I stayed the night. It is possibly one of the most expensive places to stay on the island, and that was precisely why I chose it, hoping that the higher prices would convert into a better stay. I was very much disappointed. The guests were extremely noisy and there was little the management were able to do. (Read my review on tripadvisor.)

Sometimes there is a fine line between cultural differences and a lack of manners. The resort has a beautiful gazebo where one can enjoy the view of the lake while having a meal. So there I was having my dinner and admiring the sunset when this local lady just plonked herself in the seat across from me, lay down, and presented her ample butt to me, promptly spoiling the view and my appetite.


The next day, on the way back to Medan, we stopped by Sipiso-piso, a waterfall that’s not much to crow about, although one can get a stunning view of Lake Toba from here. We also visited Berastagi where the fruit and vegetables look so fresh that I just wanted to buy up everything. In the end, restraint set in, and I came away with some pepino melons (never had them before) and raspberries (nothing like the ones I’ve had before).


So it took a while to get to Lake Toba and back, but the view was worth it. Now all I have to do is to get the picture of the unappetizing posterior out of my head….

Hello Medan!


After sending eight years outside of my home country and going on a fair number of business trips, one can get quite blase aout travelling. So as I landed at the Medan airport, it was interesting to feel the excitement of old bubbling up again. Medan is nowhere as exotic as any of the -stans but to me it is territory unexplored, having never been to Indonesia (Batam doesn’t count).

The first thing that struck me when I arrived is that the Indons smoke… a lot. I can feel my lungs choking up as I walked out of the airport and scrambled onto the taxi which cost Rp 50k to get to the city centre.

As usual, the best way to experience local life is through the food. So my friend and I wandered around until we found a food centre.


While ordering the food, I was surprised at how much Malay I can actually remember simply from growing up in a multi-ethnic country — but I still can’t count beyond five. Nasi soto ayam, sate ayam, ifu mee seafood, teh tarik dingin, milo dingin. Rp 68k. I uttered a quick prayer and started eating. Stomach, thou shalt be strong!