Outdoor Living in the City

City Parks of Surabaya

It feels good to be outside. Under the shade of tall tropical trees, catching a nice cool breeze while strolling around the park. Taman Prestasi city park follows the curve of the Kalimas river right next to it. It is long and narrow, green, and filled with swing sets, slides, and climb-ups. The look on Anja’s face each time we go to a park is pure joy. So Jeff and I made it a mission to take her to parks and outdoor playgrounds in Surabaya as much as we can.

I left this city 20 years ago and I returned with a husband and a toddler last year. Both Surabaya natives, Jeff and I had been worried about outdoor activities. Surabaya is known for its heat, traffic and congestion and it is saturated by indoor shopping malls. Are we just going to be indoors all the time? What to do with a toddler in this city? I had those questions in mind along with so many other things anyone would after a major move across the ocean. Time went by. Jeff and I were too busy to notice city parks! Last week something inside of me just nudged and prompted me to take the three of us to visit a park nearby where we live. And wow, how glad I was to do so. We liked Taman Flora (Kebun Bibit Bratang) a lot.  There is joy in discovery, isn’t there? Especially when it is a clean park with playgrounds in it. That “discovery” felt encouraging. I was determined to look for other parks nearby.

A keeps asking for the swing while we’re walking through the park. She lights up immediately when we find a set, farther away from the crowd. She doesn’t care if the swings or slides or climb-up are not made of quality materials. Aren’t kids awesome that way? She plops down on the seat and swings slowly. Our daughter notices  our gestures and hears every little thing we say. So Jeff and I try not to be so critical toward things we find different from what we are used to from our lives abroad.

The three city parks we visited are decent. Sure, the playground could be better. But for Surabaya to have these outdoor spaces where we could stroll, feed the deer, swing and slide, and just enjoy being outside in the city for a bit, I think is pretty damn good. Keep up the good work, Surabaya! Stay clean and green!

Note: The third park we visited in these past two weeks was Kebun Bibit Wonorejo – forgot to take pictures!

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I am crazy about jasmine and its sweet fragrance. They are mystical and romantic. Their scent seems to trigger nice memories of my childhood and of the people who I deeply care about.

About three summers ago, I bought two jasmine plants from a nursery in my old neighborhood in Chicago. I planted them together in a rectangular plastic container and placed them outside of my apartment window. I would move them inside of the apartment when the breeze turns colder, keep them close to a bright window, and hope they stay alive until spring returns. Once the air becomes warmer, I’d move them back outside again and let them stay out for the whole summer. That dance continued every year to this summer in our new home in Michigan. As a native to the tropical regions of the world, my jasmine plants love and thrive in the bright sun, heat, and humidity that summer offers this year. I just have to make sure that they drink lots of water once a day.

Here are the little beauties. Wished you could smell their intoxicating beautiful fragrance.

I notice that they start budding and blooming like crazy in July.

My morning coffee ritual on the patio becomes even more special with the little beauties’ scent all around. It’s pretty fantastic!

Hope you’re enjoying your summer wherever you are!

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The abnormally warm but glorious weather seemed to invite everyone and everything out to play. Jeff and I were riding our bicycles on Sunday. Just as we entered the Central Park South trail, Jeff spotted this little turtle. “Oh, turtle! I love turtle!” I shouted.

I thought about taking it home and keeping it as a pet…

But it hissed when I touched it! I never knew turtles could do that!

And look at those nails! So of course I changed my mind about keeping it as a pet.


Today was the first day of spring. It was 85 degrees…in Michigan! 

Photos property of The Travelling Chili Pepper

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One Bright Night

Heavy snow continues to fall on Christmas Eve and blankets Chicago in white. Snowfall seems to mute the loud city noise. Most streets become empty around these hours of the day and time of year. Many have vacated the city to be with families and those in the city seem to be staying inside.

We are the only ones standing at the Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park tonight. Jeff wants to experiment with his new camera. The park looks silent and empty. The cloud covers part of Chicago’s skyline to the south of us. In the summer time, parks get filled with lush trees and beautiful flowers—it would be green everywhere. But tonight, nothing blocks our view. We spot a fox roaming around the park by itself and a rabbit munching on the other side—it’s great to see other outdoor lovers around.

The overcast sky and snow-covered ground reflect the city lights, creating a bright night. The only sound we hear come from our footsteps on the crunchy snow and the 151 bus that passes through Stockton Drive. Even the air feels calmer and warmer. The city is illuminated, peaceful, and quiet. What a beautiful night…

Photos property of The Traveling Chili Pepper

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Come Rain or Shine…

The rain is pouring hard. I feel the water droplets fall violently on my skin. But yet Jeff and I can’t stop laughing as we pedal our bikes faster heading back north. We probably have the same thought at that moment, “It was sunny when we started! Why didn’t we check the weather today?” I see parents pushing strollers and speeding up as their little kids happily stick out their tongues to taste the rain. It can be fun to be caught in the rain. Some joggers hide under the trees. A few look upset because this heavy but cool rain in the middle of a hot day ruins their plans. The rest keep on running and pedaling undisturbed, entranced by the noises coming out of their earphones.

Earlier that afternoon, Jeff and I wanted to go on an easy bike ride along Chicago’s Lakefront Trail. We had light lunch and drinks packed nicely in Jeff’s messenger bag along with a blanket. I had picked a spot between West Fullerton Parkway and North Avenue Beach for us to have our little picnic*.  As soon as we got to the place, thick, dark clouds turned the world grey and then decided to unload what they had been carrying on us and Chicago.

I have never considered myself an outdoorsy or a sporty person. My idea of being outdoors used to consist of sitting at a café or a beach, reading a good book with a drink in my hand. Living five blocks away from Lake Michigan in Chicago supports my love for lazy summer days. I’d put on my bathing suit, sunscreen,and a summer dress, pack a bottle of water, towel, and a good book, and I would be off to the lake every chance I got. Sometimes, Jeff would join me and we’d pack some food and just hang out at Chicago’s front yard. It’s nice to sit on the grass facing the gigantic body of water or the high-rise buildings which mark the curves of the city’s east side.

Last summer, Jeff and a good friend of mine, Farah, inspired me to get a bicycle. I remember asking if they planned to be “serious bike riders” who’d put on their cycling gear and just zoom along the trail that stretches for 18 miles like the wind. Jeff has had a bicycle for as long as I can remember and he rides his bike to and from work during warmer months. I think of him as a pretty-serious bike rider. Farah bought hers that summer and at the time was having so much fun beach hopping. I was totally sold when she said, “Serious bike rider? I ride my bike wearing a summer dress!” “Okay,” I thought, “I could do that! I think I’ll combine fun in the sun, light lunches, and bike riding and see how that goes.”

On beautiful spring and summer days, when the sky is clear and the breeze is cool, it is so easy to keep riding the bike for miles through parks, beaches, and cool spots. Each point offers different scenery. From the little kids in their soccer outfit trying to kick the ball far too big for them to play with at a park on Foster Beach, to boats parked at Belmont Harbor, and to the perfect view for a poster of Chicago’s skyline from the north at a curve close to North Beach Avenue. My favorite view is still the city’s modern civilization beauty, framed by blue water and sky, from the grassy lawn of Shedd Aquarium.

But now, the dark clouds follow Jeff and me as we go north. We race the rain to see who is faster. As we enter Montrose Beach area, the rain decides to go east. The trail and grass look dry from this point up to Bryn Mawr. So we stop, pull out the blanket and devour our lunch. Our eyes follow the dark clouds as it moves fast across the lake, maybe to unload on Michigan. The sun is out once again and it dries our semi-wet shirts while we watch people pass by. The sirens from ambulances and a fire truck driving on Lake Shore Drive add to the city’s soundtrack. Three teenage girls walk by with a boombox, a scene we hardly see anywhere anymore, singing and dancing to the tune. “They look a bit too young to be stuck in the 80s.” says Jeff as he sips his coffee. We just finish the coffee when we feel little water droplets from the sky. A different group of clouds are following the previous batch. Summer days in Chicago seem to be thunderstorm-prone.We’ll just stay flexible and go back out next weekend. More cool spots to share!

*Our definition of “picnic” might be slightly different from what others would normally imagine. Ours consists of: either sandwiches or any dish we happen to cook that weekend packed in individual lunch containers, two water bottles, an old blanket for us to sit on, and sometimes, coffee in a slim thermos. No baskets, no pretty plates, cups, or paper napkins. We try to keep things simple .

Have a great summer everyone, come rain or come shine!

Photos property of The Traveling Chili Pepper

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