I learned about nongkrong from a man named James, creator of the blog Plus Ultra. It is the ancient art practiced in Indonesia and other parts of the Far East which can be loosely translated as the activity of sitting outside and doing nothing in particular.

I began my apprenticeship in nongkrong in approximately 2003 or 2004, when I was living at my family’s homestead in Topsham, Maine. It was and is an old farmhouse built in 1893 or thereabouts, and my favorite area in the whole place was the porch, where I sat on a swing and had a table beside me to hold my coffee cup and ashtray. I’d go out there every day with a journal, smoke and drink and write out all the angsty neurosis in my head, and all the while watch the traffic course by on route 196, or the tall conifer trees across it owned by Hearst Corporation. I’d look at the lovely old crooked apple tree by the side of the road, or our rusty mailbox, or examine the railing on the porch or the turquoise-painted boards beneath my feet.

Completely undisturbed, my gracious family let me have my quiet times here in all kinds of weather. They knew I needed it.

Now I live in an apartment 20 minutes drive east of there, in a ship-building city by the Kennebec River. Thankfully my new home also has a place where I can nongkrong, a deck with a wooden table and a wooden chair, and a railed fence encircled by a wire fence. I have wonderful neighbors, beautiful souls all of them, and I come out here several times a day to smoke and drink and sometimes write. My best moments are when I truly nongkrong. I sit and be. Kit-Kat the black-and-white kitty visits me, or Rico the neighbor’s beautiful Bengal cat. And the more I look, the more I see and reflect upon just what a beautiful world this is.

David my elderly neighbor has an American flag hoisted on a pole next door. I look at it and think about nations and patriotism. Everything I look at here–seagulls whirling overhead, a dumpster across the street to my south that the wind blows open occasionally, and the mysterious vacated white building directly opposite me with a red door that no-one ever goes in or out of–shows me a world in miniature.

Take some time for nongkrong next time you can. Slow down and recapture that sense of joy at simply being alive that you had when you were a child. But do it outside. There’s a whole wide world out there, and you never know what you’ll see.

For those of you who wish to read James’ lovely post where I learned about nongkrong, as he describes the Indonesian town of Palembang, click on this link.

5 thoughts on “Nongkrong

  1. Wow Matt, I guess I never realized how wonderful with words you are. I have a lot of free time on my hands, and that means my head tends to fill with anxious thoughts. Just to simply be…to be outside, to enjoy the simplicity and complexity of the world, is to me what life is about.
    Thanks for sharing and reminding me it’s ok to be still.


    1. Not a problem, Gail, happy to share! I had a lot of fun writing it. Anxious thoughts have a way of getting to me, too. Even after posting this, they started coming in, the worries. Thinking that people would read it and say to me, “Get a life and some responsibilities. You’re just sitting there doing nothing when you should be working at a job.” But then I let those thoughts go. Nobody’s perfect.

      By the way, my main tutelage in nongkrong has been authors of books, especially Lin Yutang (“The Importance of Living”) and Thomas Moore (“The Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life.”)

      And also, cats are masters at this art. 🙂


  2. Matt, this is a beautiful post. We learn so much just by sitting outside and observing things, people, the environment around us. With all our gadgets and “instant culture” it is so easy to forget the simple joy of just being. Maine sounds like an idyllic, peaceful state (no pun intended) and I would love to visit someday.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s