Salad as a Main Course - Arny from Indonesia

陳偉健CHAN Wai Kin 

同學們與被訪者合照,後排左一為Arny  Students and the interviewees, Arny is in the second row, the first one from the left

同學們與被訪者合照,後排左一為Arny  Students and the interviewees, Arny is in the second row, the first one from the left

“Frankly speaking, who wants to leave home to work at somewhere far away. It’s no fun at all.”

Arny talked with me in fluent Cantonese. This interview was scheduled for half an hour but because Arny and her friend were very passionate to share their stories, it ended up lasting for two hours. Sitting face-to-face with Arny, you could definitely feel her perseverance in making a living.

She first introduced rujak, an Indonesian spicy salad which I tasted as I listened to her story.

“I live in Jawa Timur, where there are many ordinary villages. Most villagers start working after completing primary school, including my two elder sisters, younger sisters and myself.”

Arny’s sisters were luckier than she was - they either managed to get a high-paying job in Jawa Timur, or find a good match and open a grocery store. As for Arny, it was hard for her and her husband to support the tuition fee of her two children with their low income. Therefore, she decided to work overseas as her daughter turned school-age.

I couldn’t stand the spicy salad dressing - it is very spicy indeed.

There are no fixed ingredients for rujak - cucumber, apple, pineapple, yam bean, pear, etc, can be used - as long as they are cut into cubes, slices or stripes. Then, smear a layer of peanut spicy sauce on the vegetables, mix well and the dish is ready.

“You can add any vegetables and fruits of your choice. There is no need to follow the recipe strictly.”

Arny said she gets along with her family like friends.

There is no hierarchy in the family and her parents are not as stern as the others. When she was small, Anry would run around the village with her siblings after school. They would go home to take a small bowl of rujak whenever they felt exhausted, and continue to run around after fuelling themselves.

“We would go swimming, too! We simply took off our clothes and jumped straight into the pond together. The water was not too deep and felt cool indeed. Sometimes, mom would swim together with us.”

Nowadays, children seldom exercise. They spend most of their time in front of their electronic gadgets, inside of which their friends live.

雅莉口中的合成畢業照(photomontage that Arny mentioned)

雅莉口中的合成畢業照(photomontage that Arny mentioned)

“I really want to have a chat with my children, just like how you and I spend an afternoon having a relaxing talk. I am only back to Indonesia once every two years! Sometimes when I talk to my son, he would blame me for interrupting his games. After finish playing the game, he would go out with his friends. There was hardly any time for us to get along.”

Arny smiled as she explained, "Perhaps to him, there isn’t much difference between communicating face-to-face or through a screen because we usually do video calls while being in separate locations.”

This rujak is too spicy - I disrupted the interview to quench my thirst. Arny got me a glass of sour juice to cool my tongue off.

雅莉一行人分享給我們的rujak(Arny and her friends shared rujak with us)

雅莉一行人分享給我們的rujak(Arny and her friends shared rujak with us)

Arny recalled that on her previous trip home, her elder son was just admitted to university. He usually stays at the dormitory and seldom cook by himself.

“He studies Engineering. I couldn’t understand the complicated English words. Have a look, you should be able to comprehend.” she said as she showed me a photo on her phone.

Oh, it’s Electronic Engineering. Her son is the first university student in the family.

“Last time when I was back, I made a lot of rujak for him to bring back to the dormitory but he said he doesn’t eat pear, in fear of getting fat because of the high sugar content.”

I had two bites – there were some pear bits in the rujak which tasted really sweet.

Despite having to work away from home and returning only once every two years, Arny is still optimistic about her life in Hong Kong.

The living environment and state of order are good in Hong Kong, giving them the chance to do many things they would not have done back in Indonesia. Having been here for more than a decade, Arny has developed many personal interests. Despite having only one day off every week, she is determined enough to make some time for her interests - tailoring, singing, drawing, doing Tai Chi and playing the guitar.

“Look at her, she is very skilled at tailoring long dresses. And her, the one sitting opposite to us, she asked me to learn Tai Chi. And the girls over there...”, said Arny, pointing at the two friends who were playing the guitar from far.

“If we were working in Indonesia, how could we do all these? How could we just sit in a park and do nothing but chatting? It’s a happy thing to do indeed!”

Almost finishing up the rujak, I got used to the taste of this spicy salad - sweet and sour yet aroused a tingling sense in the tongue and mouth. On a second bite, the vegetable and fruit juice washed away the tingling sensation, which interestingly made a comeback only two seconds later.

“It was really hard at first. There is no winter in Jawa Timur. Doing housework in winter was hard - I could hardly move my fingers with frostbites all over. I wasn’t used to the food here so when I was off on Sundays, I would make some Indonesian dishes.” said Arny, pointing at the rujak in my hand.

Fortunately, winter is not too cold in Hong Kong this year.

“No matter how challenging it is, I need to work. Otherwise I do not have money to support schooling for my children. Then they would have to follow my footstep. I want them to live a more comfortable life so I do not mind working harder.”

Fortunately, her elder son has been admitted to university and he will be able to find a well-paid job when he graduates in two or three years. Arny plans to stay in Hong Kong for a few more years, before returning home for a lower-paid job so that she could stay close to her family.

Arny showed me a photo on her phone which somehow seemed fake.

“This is a photomontage. My younger son graduated from kindergarten when I first came to work in Hong Kong - my two-year contract had just started. His classmates were all accompanied by their parents. The night before graduation, he gave me a call and asked if I would be back the day after. I could only hold my tears and apologize to him.”

Later on, Arny asked her friends to take an individual photo of her, which she later combined with her son’s graduation photo and sent back home. Upon receiving the photo, her son was so thrilled that he kissed Arny several times on the phone.

I finished the bowl of rujak - its taste was complicated. Only those who have tried would understand.

“You have to work hard on your study, too. Make some rujak for yourself in your free time. It’s easy, tasty and healthy!”

Translated by FOK Wai Ting, Natalie



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