The Pecel of Life - Ayda’s 10-Year Challenge

馮詩華FUNG Shi Wah

 

In the blistering heat in Surabaya, Ayda fell asleep on a bench under a tree, holding a few reference books in her arms. Knowledge, thought, dream and future ferment in the young body of hers.

Ayda

Ayda

A call from Kediri interrupted her mid-summer dream. It was her mother, who struggled to recount the family’s situation - they were prone to bankruptcy without much money left. “I will quit school to make a living” – that was the only idea on Ayda’s mind. When she was about to articulate the thought, her mother firmly responded, “Your father and I will deal with it. Just focus on your study. We will find a way to support the remaining two years of your study.” Ayda didn’t continue because she knew her parents would put forward millions of reasons to convince her to finish her study. Of course, she understood this was all out of love. Yet, thinking about her five younger siblings, it was quite an ordeal to fight. In face of this adversity, the family needed more help and support. Without telling her parents in advance, Ayda withdrew from university to join their hands to support the family.  

Ayda was excited to show a photo of a hometown dish on her phone, “Pecel is an interesting dish.” There are plenty ingredients - rice with fried bean curd puff, bean sprouts and red carrot slices to pair with a spoonful of peanut sauce, calling up the image of rice with salad and vegetables. “You can add all that you like - whether it’s chili, dried bean curd, prawn crackers, etc. There are many combinations. 

While Ayda is not a fan of spicy food herself, her fate has, unfortunately, poured a spoonful of Sambal sauce onto her Indonesian salad - Her cousin referred her to a training center to learn to speak Cantonese: “Good morning”, “thank you”, “what do you want to eat?” and cook Hong Kong-style home dishes: steamed fish, steamed pork ribs, steamed minced pork and make soup. 

Back in 2008 when Ayda first arrived in Hong Kong, she was anxious about making mistakes, being blamed and disliked. Her first employer was an old lady who did not suffer any chronic illness; but did not have good memory either. She always failed to locate things she wanted and would then fiercely blame the outsider who took care of her, i.e. Ayda. Meanwhile, Ayda endeavored to prove her innocence with the limited vocabularies she knew - “I didn’t,” “No”.  Such miscommunication annoyed the old lady who sometimes lost her temper – she would pinch Ayda’s arms to vent her anger. She forbade Ayda to cook, believing that she would poison the food. She also banned her from using her phone and taking leave - Ayda only has one day off each month. Recounting the days in hell, Ayda could only hide under the quilt and cry. She cried even harder at the thought of her family – “family” is such a heavy word, downright heavy.  She was once so determined to go home regardless of her contract, but couldn’t get over a plea for a stay from her employer’s daughter - “Please help us.”  

Ayda and her friends wanted to ride a cab on a Sunday. “Central, please.” The driver stared at them through the rear-view mirror, “Cab charges are high. Go and take the bus.” Feeling furious, Ayda’s friend took all money out from her wallet, “Who say we don’t have money!” Ayda took her bag and left the cab with her friend, “Let’s just not ride his cab.” The other day in the afternoon, Ayda was carrying some bags of vegetables on the bus and could finally take a seat. An old man pointed at her and said, “These seats are for us Chinese, not you Indonesians!” 

Over the past ten years, Ayda has learned to say “give a hand” in Cantonese. Everyone struggles hard in this bustling city to earn a living - why then do we have to give each other a hard time? 

“90% of the Indonesian maid have been exploited during their first contract” After a difficult two-year contract, Ayda was ready to join another family. 

To Adya, Hong Kong is her stepping stone and she is just one of the foreign labor we hear in news reports. “Just stay with us!” “We won’t have food!” “Everything will be messed up!” Every time before Ayda returns home, the three children of her employer would hug her leg tight, in fear that she will not return anymore. Of course, Ayda will be back - she is just visiting her family. Up until Ayda’s brothers and sisters complete their studies, she will bid farewell to this place for good and be with her own family. And when the three children grow up, they will always remember there was once a thoughtful helper who accompanied them to eat, sleep and helped resolve their conflicts. Traces of her joining the family would somehow remain. 

Adya的攝影作品 / Photos taken by Ayda

“My employer treats me very well. She always reminds me not to focus only on working, earning money and having fun.” Her words were a wake-up call for Ayda - she hopes that she will not only return home with sufficient money, but also a better self. In 2016, Ayda decided to continue with her mid-summer dream by enrolling in a remote learning course in Communications Science at the Universitas Terbuka. 

Striving to pursue one’s passion while struggling with life is like saying that one is a “dream catcher” - it sounds romantic but is never easy to achieve. Ayda has a passion for writing, yet with a packed schedule of housework, child-care and homework support, as well as other trivial matters, how could she make time for writing? “When preparing for meals” - while cooking, Ayda always puts a notebook beside the stove. Amid the sizzling sound, she puts her thoughts into word while juggling with a spatula, seasoning and a pen. The kitchen has become Ayda’s working studio, where the spark of her thoughts and that of the stove meet to give off great flames. “Sometimes when my employer sees that, she’d laugh and say this is ‘crazy’.” Fate has poured a spoonful of Sambal sauce onto Ayda’s Pecel, yet she remains calm and waits patiently for the coming of opportunities so that she could choose the side dishes she likes. After all, she has to accept this Pecel of life. 

Speaking of the future, Ayda puts her hands together as the light of hope sparkles through her lenses - she is as happy as a kid making birthday wishes. Going home, she would open a cafe for her parents who love cooking various dishes or simply kneading a dough in their free time. Her siblings should have successfully completed their studies and be engaged in whatever they love to do by then - but definitely their job cannot be as demanding as hers. “Hm.. what about yourself?” “I want to pursue a Master’s Degree in Arts.” Ten years on, Ayda’s Pecel still contains a lot of her family, and a bit of herself as well. 

Translated by FOK Wai Ting, Natalie 

 

 

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