“Do not speak unless you can improve the silence” - Proverb

We talk to restore balance.

We talk because something tipped our inner peace. We talk because we want something from the environment: understanding, sympathy, love, the salt across the table.

Now what if we wanted less from the environment? What if we expected and reacted less? What if we knew that things only change when its time is up, not when we want it to?

Wouldn't it be easier to swing back in the groove?


The Mannequin

As we grow old, the beauty steals inward.  ~Ralph Waldo Emerson Photo by @Soumz

For a long time, it struck me as inane that a woman should bother so much that her appearances. Is there so little that a woman could think about than what she's wearing? How could the Saudi woman splurge her entire tens of thousands of riyal dowry on clothes instead of education? Or travel? Or a car and a rice cooker?

The Function

When you think about it, it's just how urban societies work that made appearances so important. Urban Social positions rely (if not entirely, then heavily) on appearances. 

In a woman's case, her main source of income is her looks. If she looks good as a girl, she get's the better husband. If she looks good as a married woman, her husband will keep her. And if she still looks good after three kids, she can still have other options if things turn boring sour.

Looks can be deceiving and it goes as far as brains. But who needs brains when we can have everything with a gorgeous face?

The Italians

Let's stereotype a bit more, just for examples' and sensibility's sake.

Italians are usually depicted loud and rowdy. When they talk, they TALK, with their italic Italianness and animate gestures. Yet in all that noise, there is expressive and desperate appreciation for beauty and life. There is the subtle knowledge that under all the noise, there will be a pause of satisfaction. That all have been said. All have been tried. And life, as sour as it gets, can't conquer the human spirit.

I see that gregariousness to take life by its details and make it beautiful in the Saudi and urban woman's attention to herself. To her appearances. And fashionably overfilled closet and mind.

That as confined and restrained and sour as life gets; the mere appreciation of beauty can set forth one's freedom and humanity.

And that's okay too, you know?


Domestic Martyrdom

“It is not a lack of love, but a lack of friendship that makes unhappy marriages.” ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

A Hadith once said that a Muslim dude needs to learn to fight, grow courage, pick a cause to believe in and die for, then hope that he didn’t offend too many people in achieving martyrdom.

A Muslim girl only needs to please a husband to be nominated for the glories of martyrdom.

Feminists, please restrain from hating. This ruling actually honors a woman’s efforts in keeping a single man happy, whether she does it alone or with sister-wives and/or secret mistresses .

It also says something about how hard it is to stay married to a man and pleasing him on a day-to-day basis. That marriage can be as hard as protecting a whole country from invasion.

That, even if we love the men we’re married to, it’s still a risk on our mental and physical stability. And if a sister can still love her man after years of marriage, in poverty and sickness or football nights, I’d like some of that drug she's using.

For who doesn't want a little bit of heaven on earth while being married?


Positive Thinking Doesn't Work Alone

“Discontent is the first step in the progress of a man or a nation” ~ Oscar Wilde


Depressed people swear by this: That as many positive thinking as they conjure in their heads, it doesn't lift the gloom. As many happy thoughts, achievements and positive self-images they reflect, nothing in the imaginary world has the power to pick up the awful drops of mood.


Positive thinking doesn't work because it's only smoke and empty calories. Just thinking it doesn't bring results or create change. Yes, it may help a little with beginnings and endings, but it doesn't feed the hungry, or fix a car or make the sun raise a little sooner.


If a positive idea makes you more depressed, then it's no longer a positive thing, is it?

The big positive ideas may shy to admit their dirty little secret: That positive thinking only works if it's followed with continuous, tedious, positive sweating. Whether in series of steps or trials and errors, positive thinking need to be worked out, to be tested and proven to remain positive.

In short? Positive thinking is worthless without positive action.

Positive Minds

Since we can't change the world in bulk, doesn't it mean that positivity is limited to the work that we can manage? And the changes that we can handle? And the results that we can create? What, a made up room? A decent lunch? A scrubbed toilet? Hell, yeah.

Is that why the most positive people are the ones with lesser ideas in their heads, and more sweat on their brows?



"Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose." ~ Kris Kristofferson


Having lived in different places made me realize that people are basically the same everywhere. Cultural and time zone differences aside, we are the same people wherever we are.

If there’s freedom of speech in Jackson, MS., then there’s the freedom of privacy in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. If there’s material freedom in Jeddah, then there’s freedom of solitude in Jatibarang, Central Java.


Whether I wake up in Jatibarang or Jeddah or Jackson, whatever cultural, social and material choices a place can give, at core, I remain the same. I still wake up as Hning here and there. I still start my mornings with coffee and Chopin. I’d still fall back to writing and meditation.

And that is all the freedom I need from the world, you know? Whether I can go out or not, whether I can work or speak or cause riots, whether the rest of the day brings crazy or lonely, my freedom is the consistency of rituals. Rituals that anchor gratefulness and engage the Silence.

Everything else are just auxiliaries.


Why people don't get up early in Saudi

There's this saying that the early birds gets the best worms.

In Saudi, everyone gets the best worms, at any time of the day.

So why not do it AFTER midday, when the fattest worms are awake too?



“Coincidence is the word we use when we can't see the levers and pulleys.” ~ Emma Bull


Other than the fact that she's a Saudi studying in the US, and that she's the only one who agreed to hangout as early as 8 am in Jeddah, I didn't know what to expect from seeing her.  I only knew that birds of the same feather sought each other.

And over breakfast, these were the facts: That she's a scientist, she critical and restless and wanted to create positive change in Saudi. She was in a place where she wasn't sure what her mission was. She mentioned wanting to start a center to help women who are stuck in domestic violence.

And she said, in passing, that she wanted to write a novel. (Which reminded me of my own NaNoWriMo project from last year.)


Things need to settle and ferment and finish to be better understood.

When I got home (stuffed and cheesecake-happy), I remembered that NaNoWriMo was due in a couple of weeks, and that it might help my new friend to finish her own novel.

But I shivered. That NaNoWriMo project from last year! That novel I wrote last year!

It was about a Saudi woman who defied the rules, and started a center for socially rejected women, focused on helping victims of domestic violence. The heroine's name was Hala.

Fuck, that damn novel's working title was Hala!

The girl who had breakfast with me this morning was no stranger. She was a character from my own novel.


A Roomful of Absents

“Those who flee temptation generally leave a forwarding address.” ~ Lane Olinghouse

There's a hadith that says when a boy and a girl are together in private, then the devil is their third.

Of course, this only works if two people repeatedly get in private on a weekly basis. Because if two people repeatedly, deliberately get in private a lot, they are prone to tempt temptation and focus on scratching an itch

But when the meetings are scarce, and the ghosts are clearly defined, it would (at least) take three dates until the devil can really say shit.

In fact, when a romantic couple get together, they don't just bring one devil. A romantic date usually consists of a boy, a girl and fourteen other ghosts from each side. These haunting and screaming parental, traditional, dogmatic ghosts easily stifle every flickering temptation a devil might squeak.

Along with the histories and stories and emotional baggage,it gets pretty hard to listen to each other at all. Much less get a hard on.

So for as long that it takes for this roomful of ghosts to clear, and just before the devil might have a say about what kind of mischief we ought to have in private, I'd like us to have this cup of tea together, knowing (almost sadly) that this privacy is not going to disappoint the Powers-that-Be and the people whom we love as honestly as we do each other.


Choosing Thoughts

"We cannot cure the world of sorrows, but we can choose to live in joy.” ~ Joseph Campbell

I know a happy man living on a USD100 monthly income, living in a 3x4m room in Jakarta. I know an unhappy man who rolls in three Mercedes Benzes, five houses, two wives and a million followers. How did the standards of happiness become so different from one person to the next?

Force of Mental Habit

We can't control the external world. A thobe is a thobe, but if you hate wearing it, well it's not the thobe's fault, is it? However you feel about a million or three, it's not the money's fault for being there or not, is it? Nor it is the country's, the government's, the spouse's, the children's or the cats' and dogs' fault.

If we can put things into our heads (longing, hating, loving, fear), we can also remove them. Especially the imaginary things, like a BlackBerry or a lost relation or "more, more, more". If we can teach our minds to love someone/something, we definitely can train it to un-love.

Since this special freedom of thought is forever ours, whether it's in a hermitage on a mountain or in the deep pockets of an urban slum, then we are free to choose between joy or misery anywhere we can choose our thoughts. ('Coz sometimes I can't think when the whole crowd's yelling.)

What would you choose to think today?


Simple Joys in Saudi

“When you are grateful fear disappears and abundance appears” ~ Anthony Robbins

I wanted to write 20 things that don't need to change in Saudi. Simple things that I cherish. Funny thing, the first things that came to mind were detailed, personal things. Nevertheless there should never be a list of "20 Personal Things Hning Loves about Saudi", so let's keep them to three.

Item 1. Saudi is a Culinary Whore's Halal Heaven.

There's so much to eat in Saudi (and enough money for most to go by). You can stuff yourself (and 3 other girls) full with Al-Baik, Bukhari Rice, Foul & Tameez at as cheap as USD5. You can find USD500 Caviars, and you can find the best Hindi sweets in the busiest corners of Sharafiyyah. We can know everything about a place from the things we eat there. So if there is so much to eat in a place, and food can fix even a broken heart, doesn't it mean that life is generally good in Saudi?

Item 2. Saudi has plenty of underground communities

Have you noticed how underground communities forge the most intimate and longstanding friendships?

By hobby: musicians, photographers, fashionista, Harley Davidson, books, poetry, filmmakers, bodybuilders, scuba divers, scuba diving photographers, writing.

By region: Jordanians, Syrians, Lebanese, Egyptians, Indians, Pakistanis, Afghans, Bengalis, Iranis, Turks, Pinoys, Malaysians (they used to have acrobatic takraw sessions at the consulate), Indonesians, Chinese, Japanese (albeit limited to technology and sushi), Taiwanese, US Americans, other kinds of Americans.

If people can have the time and energy to pick up hobbies, doesn't it mean that their basic needs have been fulfilled? Or that they're that bored?

Item 3. Saudi has enough for the survival of all, and then some.

The standards of living in Saudi is well-off above survival. Most folks can get by. Most folks are protected from natural disasters and mosquitoes. Most folks can put their children through school and then some. Most folks got secure healthcare and pension plans. And everyone reading this from Saudi are folks who have gotten their hands on the relatively latest communication methods and technology, which is few scales above mere survival.

Maybe it's the oil. Maybe it's the fact that there are so much traffic international going on there, of people coming and going every year from the days of Abraham that the Lord gave pity to such a barren spot. And if we still complain about Saudi it's from boredom and saturated homogeny. Because not every country in the world is as generous as Saudi, it's that simple and true.

Ain't it glad to be Saudi today?

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