People

Andrea Hirata: Savoring
a taste of home

Novelist Andrea Hirata says that spending hours hanging out in coffee shops in his home village Gantung, Belitung, has given him a lot of ideas for his books. That is why he likes to spend most of his weekends there, besides taking his nephew and nieces to beautiful beaches on the island.

“At the moment, I am busy with the construction of a library I’ve dedicated for the community in my village. It is almost done and I expect it to be ready in early August.

When I am in Jakarta or Bandung I will be busy with my scheduled book discussions, seminars, talk shows and a literary festival. In my home village, life is easier and I can relax easily, every day is Sunday there.

“I don’t abide by rigid schedules when I am in the village, it’s the same day in, day out, but I really enjoy it. I love to spend my time in a small cabin near the river just to write or simply daydream.

“Each day, I spend time talking with my mother. It can last for hours, but most of the time I just listen to her talk about the value of life. She always lectures me on a number of issues, particularly religion, the area in which I fall shortest.

“She often tells me how concerned she is that I’m still unmarried. However, the time I spend with my mother holds some of the best moments of my day.

“I have lots of nephews and nieces. On the weekend I usually take them out for an outing. We go the beaches in Belitung. We have so many beautiful beaches there and we try to visit different places every weekend. Sometimes I take them exploring in the woods. I want to teach them to concern for the environment and appreciate our natural heritage.

“The young generation today is mesmerized by what other countries have without realizing the richness of their own country. I don’t want my nephews and nieces to follow that example. I always tell them to be grateful for what they have now.

“Besides going on an outing with nephews and nieces, hanging out at coffee shop is my favorite pastime during the weekend. Coffee shops are an essential part of life for Malay folks, especially those in my village. A cup of coffee can tell a lot about someone’s personality. We get to know people better by seeing their habit in drinking coffee.

“It was in coffee shops where I learned many things about Malay culture that gave me inspiration in writing the new novels, Padang Bulan [Moon Shine] and Cinta Dalam Gelas [Love in a Glass]. People come to a coffee shop to meet friends and discuss so many issues, from politics, economy to personal matters like failed marriage. I can spend between three to four hours in a day talking to strangers or just observing their behavior.

“I am a slob when it comes to physical exercise. I now realize how important it is to play sports. So, it’s my new resolution. When the library project is done, I will start to exercise regularly.”

—  As told to Fitria Sofyani

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