During his short visit, there was actually not much San could offer, “besides malls and big office buildings, there aren’t many alternatives to explore.” There was also a big amusement park not too far from where she lived, “but, at first, I wasn’t too convinced to drag him sauntering around roller coasters, clowns, and the crowds. So, strolling around the mall near my house in northern Jakarta was the only trade I had in mind to offer my guest. It was his first visit to Indonesia after all, and I brought him, a Frenchman, to a shopping mall, what an idea.” She smirks, her face turning red. Her parents tagged along that day too, “nothing can be more romantic than our trip to the mall with my parents.” San is blaring, thrilled.
“Can we go to the French embassy tomorrow?” Oli asked while they were walking down the escalator of the Mall Kelapa Gading.
“What for?” San knew what for, but she wanted to hear it from Oli one more time, to please herself.
“So we can ask what we need to process your marriage visa,” Oli replied with a tender smile. San couldn’t smile back. The nervousness was back, though she also felt excitement. She liked the idea and nodded. Oli kissed her cheek in the middle of the mall and held her hand. It was the first time. San won’t forget that. She forgot about her parents, “where are my mom and dad?” It was a rhetorical question, she wasn’t that worried about her parents. She was relieved not to be caught in that kissing moment.
On the last day of his visit, they ended up going to the amusement park. This time, Hanhan joined them but not her parents. Oli still struggled with nasty fatigue because of the jet lag. His face worn out, and his eyes were like a drowsy panda. Yet, he agreed to go. Seemed pleased even, “he was okay with anything my family and I offered.”
His appearance was persistently kind, relatively flat, but in a friendly way. “It was puzzling to see whether he was really happy or really bored.” To some extent, San asserts the unknown feeling of unrest. “He was pretty reserved and far from a talker-tittle man,” she laughs, “so mostly, I was the one who talked and talked and talked, and he became the one who gradually listened to whatever I said,” her eyes continue to sparkle, assuredly amused.
“Once Oli left Indonesia, flying back to France, he disappeared for the longest time he ever had,” San continues, “I thought that was it. Maybe I wasn’t what he expected, or perhaps, he was dis- appointed or bored being with my family. I really worried that he felt bored during his short visit here.” She calmed herself down,
saying that it was okay. They never had sex. There was nothing to lose, San kept telling herself. Still, she couldn’t lie that she felt sad, “we’ve been talking for long months regularly, I didn’t feel like los- ing our fun routine,” she says. When he finally called one night af- ter the two weeks absent, she flew to the moon, relief went through her. She listened carefully to his excuse.
“Didn’t I tell you that I had an exam at school?” Oli went on, “the exam was in another city. I was swamped preparing myself for that. I also had to move into a new apartment. I already submit- ted a new internet box, but it only arrived this morning.”
“I see,” that was all San said, not too convinced at first.
“I’ve tried to email you from the internet shop by my apartment,” he longed to explain more, “but I didn’t know why it bounced back.”
“I thought you gave up on me,” this time, San voiced herself openly. She was done playing mysteriously. She wanted him to
know her distress, the sadness she felt while he was gone. The two weeks of gloominess at his absence was enough to give her a lesson about honesty. She wanted him, and he needed to know. “Or,” she pauses, “I thought you were bored staying with my family and me,” that was a question. Oli voiced a long, French ‘non’, in disagreement. Bored never crossed Oli’s mind. Instead, San and her family appeared to fill the emptiness he held during the previous few months in his life. Their presence and the warmness they have offered as a family helped him establish a new comfort of being.
Oli was a fresh orphan when the two first met on the internet. Both of his parents died only a year before they met. His father got cancer, which doctors discovered when it was already at the final stage, too late to do anything at all. The cancer cells had al-
ready spread aggressively all over his father’s body. The medical examination couldn’t locate either the starting point where his cancer began to develop, or where its center was based in the body. It escalated equitably, yielding no hope. Sadly, the bad news did not give him a chance to rest, hardly even a moment to grieve his father’s death. A few months later, “his maman got a heart attack and died suddenly.”
San drops a hint, saying that it must have been the most pro- found despair for Oli to experience. Even though he had never openly expressed his feelings. Oli refused to talk about his parents. Yet, San could sense that the man she was seeing was plagued by grief and lost love. She wanted to offer him comfort.
“Gave up?” Oli replied, “absolutely not.”
“Are you sure?” San insisted.
“Never,” Oli said, laughing. His voice was pleasant. San didn’t know what else to say. She was happy. That night, the marriage announcement came one more time from Oli. “Remember?” He began, “I’ve promised that I’ll have three new things for you; a new name, new land and a new life. And I’ll stick with it,” he paused, “I want to be with you, San. I really do.” He said it all in one breath. San whooped tenderly. There was no kneeling down with a diamond ring inside the box to open, this was a proposal done by phone.
It took only one short breath for San to react. Quick on the trigger, she said yes, “who would say no to this nice, humble, and cute Frenchman?” She gracefully expresses her amusement, re- calling the memories. San could also feel that the presence of her and her family soothed Oli. “He didn’t say much, but later, on his second visit, I captured his bliss while being around my family.” He
didn’t only like San as a new girlfriend he accidentally met on the internet, but he also cared for her parents, which shaped him as a real gentleman in her eyes.
San utters, “that was also why I quickly settled my sentiment to- ward him.” She was in love. It didn’t take long until the wedding celebrations were ready to announce. After only nine months, their love story sets quickly in place as husband and wife.
A couple of months after the proposal is pronounced, Oli came back to Indonesia for his second visit. It was late November, and this time he stayed for three weeks. Soon, it would also be his twenty-fifth birthday. San’s mom prepared tons of foods to surprise Oli. There was also bakmie, Oli’s favorite meal. And a big birthday cake with candles, made by San’s aunt. Her father and San’s younger brother had put decorations around the room, too. There were many balloons. The wall was full of ‘Happy Birthday Oli 25’ tags. Oli didn’t know about the birthday surprise, nor did he
expect this sweet party. He was in the house the whole time but had not seen anything.
San and the family prepared the entire party on the second floor of the house with her mom, her dad, and her younger broth- er. San’s aunt, who baked the cake, couldn’t join, she had to bake more cakes and pastries. It was her job. She got tons of orders every day, even on Sundays or holidays or during the Chinese New Year. She never took any days off, not even for Christmas. Baking was part of her everyday routine. She was well known as the best pastry maker in the area.
“Can I call Aunty Patricia later to say thank you for the cake?” Oli asked. “Sure,” San walked downstairs, got the phone, and dialed the aunt’s number. Nobody picked up, “we’ll call her later,” San told Oli once she was back in the party room. He nodded, kept smiling. He kissed everyone’s cheek, saying thank you. He warmly held San’s mom’s hands, saying terima kasih, his voice trembling.
He was too excited about the birthday surprise he never had be- fore. Now, it was San’s turn to get his thank-you kiss.
Oli looked at her, his eyes lit up. “Thank you,” he said, hugging his wife-to-be and kissing her on the forehead. “Do you like it?” San asked, smiling. “Yes,” Oli replied, with a smooth laugh. “I thought we were just going to a restaurant to celebrate,” Oli said, his face kept shining with joy, “in fact, we brought the restaurant home.” San laughed.
“Happy birthday to you,” Hanhan, San’s brother, started to sing, followed by everyone in the room, “Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday, dear Oli, happy birthday to you,” everyone clapped their hands, including Oli. “Blow the candles,” San commanded, smiling, “come on, make a wish and blow!” Oli closed his eyes, then blew first the two, and then the other five candles stuck on top of the vanilla cake with strawberries.
“Thank you,” Oli said once more. He didn’t stop smiling. “Can I get the part with strawberries, please?” Hanhan asked, raising his right hand. He looked concerned; he had been waiting to eat his favorite part of the cake.
During Oli’s second visit, with the wedding heavy on their minds, they began preparing for their wedding day. They started by finding a place for the celebration and wanted to wed as soon as possible, in February or March, only three months’ notice, which is considered short notice to find a place, especially in Jakarta. They were trying to be as flexible as they could be with the date, weekend or weekdays, it didn’t really matter so much for the couple. They just wanted to get married.
They got a good deal from the first place they visited, Aston Hotel. The hotel’s operational manager offered them a wedding
package, including food catering, decoration, a wedding dress, and makeup. They also provided a pre-wedding photo session with a professional for free, included in the package. The hotel manager also asked whether San wanted some part of the party to be held in their terrace, “would you be interested?” He wondered, confessing that it was the first time he had offered this. San nodded. She did that with everything the manager suggested, “why not,” she said, “as long as I don’t need to pay more,” she laughed. Oli was there too, but he didn’t say anything as the man- ager, and San spoke in Bahasa Indonesia. As long as there was a glass of wine in his hand, he didn’t mind.
“Can I also exhibit your pictures in the hotel later?” The manager asked San’s permission. The outdoor party wasn’t a trend yet at the time, and he wanted to start marketing the package. Once more, San nodded. “We can provide you some extra food stands if you wish to bring food from the outside, too.” The manager
stated. “Are you serious?” San was surprised. It was usually prohibited, all food needed to be supplied only from the hotel’s catering. Or if the couple really wanted to bring some food from an outside vendor, they would need to pay extra to get permission from the hotel. “Sure,” he said with his loud but pleasant voice, “we will provide you a couple extra stands for you to bring your own food.” San smiled, “that is nice, thank you.” They both shook hands, agreeing with all terms.
“Where are you from?” San asked the manager, speculating, but she could guess from the way he talked. “Medan,” he answered, “Horas,” he said, greeting her in his traditional language, “I am Batak, a Simatupang,” he said, showing his business card. Batak is one of the most prominent ethnic groups in Indonesia. It was used as a collective term to categorize northern Sumatran people, while Simatupang was one of the famous and familiar marga in the area.
Many families granted Simatupang as a family name. There was also a chief of staff of the Indonesian Armed Forces named Simatupang. Tahi Bonar Simatupang was his full name or known as T.B. Simatupang. Every Indonesian would know who T.B. Simatupang was. Many streets in Jakarta and other cities were named after him. His face also appeared on one of the Rupiah currency. Although his connection to the hero was trivial, the manager proudly shared his family clan history.
“I always thought Batak would work as lawyers,” San could not help herself to mention the stereotype. The manager laughed, “either lawyers or bus drivers,” he said. Right, that was how the stereotype of Batak people grew within the Jakarta community. Their well-known strong characters brought them to these two dif- ficult jobs. Lawyers needed to contest in the court while bus driv- ers, especially in Jakarta, needed to contest on the street, compete to get as many commuters as possible to bring more money home.
The available date was the fourth of February. A few days after the Chinese New Year, the biggest celebration for San and her family. They also happily celebrated Easter and Christmas, but Chinese New Year was more momentous. They needed to do a long preparation to celebrate the feast, Imlek. Everyone would gather to celebrate. Married people had to get angpao ready. It didn’t matter how much money they put inside the angpao, they had to give that angpao to every single family member who wasn’t married yet, kids and adults. It was the tradition, giving the small red envelope, the angpao . Unmarried people were not supposed to give angpao to anyone, no matter how successful
and wealthy they were. The rule was the rule, strictly obeyed by any members of the Indonesian-Chinese community.
And due to the Chinese myth, it was forbidden to celebrate a wedding during the time of the event, “Plus it is on the fourth,” San’s mom said, her voice sounds prudish, disapproving, “four is a symbol of death, you know that.” San replied, “Well, it is cheap, Mom,”voicing her unconcern about theunwritten rule.
She never believed in those kinds of things. Every day could be bad or good, it did not depend on the myth of numbers, San was thinking to herself. She didn’t really feel like arguing with her mom. “Of course they offered you a cheap deal,” her mom stubbornly disagreed, her voice sounded grating in San’s ears, “no- body wants to get married at this time of the year.” San shrugged her shoulders, “Well, Oli and I don’t mind,” she said very quietly. They pursued the next steps, the paperwork.
Marrying a foreigner means loads of paperwork. San started to find out all the necessary steps to get things in place. The first stop was the civil registry office to get informed of what documents would need to be completed to register their ceremony. There were many things from Oli’s documents that would need to be translated. It had to be done by a sworn translator appointed directly by the French Embassy. “There was a lot of back and forth driving to many places, mainly to the civil registry office.” Yet, she confesses to enjoying the process, “and as a student of law faculty himself, Oli got a better picture of understanding administration procedures.” Her voice grew bubbly, San continued the narrative with such joy, “back-to-back with all the administration process, we also did the most fun thing to do—get wedding rings.”
Once more, short notice was an issue. The couple didn’t have enough time to customize and put their name on them, “so we just got the rings that were basically on display. The only thing written down on the ring was the size.” She laughs, confessing that even though Oli was there, she was the one who made the final choice, “Oli just nodded for everything I pointed at. He didn’t care that much about the rings,” San admits, “he didn’t care so much about the wedding and celebration, he agreed because I begged him to.” San laughs, “I begged him to agree to do so many uncritical things,” she says, gratified, “and the most ridiculous he found was doing pre-wedding pictures with a professional photographer that took place one whole day.”
“Why do we need to do this? Don’t we only want to be captured during the wedding party?” Oli wondered, asking San in bewilderment. San didn’t know what to say, she didn’t know either why that was so important, she just knew that it really was essential
to exhibit pre-wedding pictures during the wedding party. Then, she simply begged her husband-to-be, “please,” that was all she said—nothing more, nothing less. Oli sighed, “Fine,” he took San in his arms, kissed her à la Française for the very first time.