The BFFs: Leonie Thebez and Nadya Wijaya

As many of you know, friendship comes first here at Public Culture — Tina and I have been friends since six and intend on staying friends till we're 106. Best friendship is hard to find and harder to keep alive, but what a privilege it is when you're a part of it.

I met with Leonie and her best friend, Nadya, for Thai food one weeknight, where I poked around for their stories. They've been friends since 13 and have an unorthodox (for best friends anyway) dynamic: at one point I thought they were going to launch into a full-on brawl because they were disagreeing so passionately with each other. Turns out: that's just the way they communicate.


Mel: How long have you guys been friends?

Leonie: How long have we known each other? Maybe since sec one? First day of school for me. I came to school a week late because my student pass didn’t come in.

Nadya: Yeah, school a week late with her clothes hanging out, socks that weren’t on, and hair that was orange.

Mel: Your hair was orange when you were sec one?

Nadya: Orangish red on the first day of secondary school.

Leonie: So ok, schoolin Indonesia starts in July, right? During the six months before I went to secondary school, I had to go to language school. I was doing nothing for six months, so why not?

Mel: And Nadya, you were a good student?

Leonie: Oh, she used to get so pissed at me. I would get better grades than her and be sleeping in class.

Nadya: And I would be skipping sleep in the morning just to study.

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Mel: Did you guys even like each other in school?

Leonie: I was adamant. Like, I guess she existed? But she wasn’t important.

Nadya: We got close because of choir. We were the only two in class who were in choir. So that’s how we got close, on top of us being Indonesians.

Leonie: No, you didn’t tell the story, Nad. You hated me.

Nadya: No, I was trying to emphasise how we got close! Not how I hated you. Unless you want to tell that story.

Leonie: There was another girl, Novena, also Indonesian. You know, like, when you move to a new place, you try to find someone familiar, right? Nadya and Novena knew each other before moving here, and then I came. And I got along better with Novena — she was more responsive when I talked to her. 

Nadya: I couldn’t stand [Leonie]. I couldn’t stand how messy she was; her clothes were blotchy; she didn’t have a name tag... And I was like, prim and proper. Like, headband, tucked in shirt, I would always make sure my shirt had an iron line —

Leonie: Who has time to iron clothes in the morning?! 

Nadya: We were complete opposites, so when I saw her, it was just like, UGH! I wanted to tidy her up but I couldn't. So it became an internal struggle of acceptance.

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Mel: So somewhere along the way, you guys rubbed off on each other?

Nadya: I fell into depression when I was in sec one. I was under a lot of pressure from my parents and family because I didn’t manage to get into a good school. I’m the sort of person who wants to prove people wrong, so I really, really bucked up. Like scoring 70 was not enough for me, I had to be 80, 90, 100. And then I see this girl who’s all butterflies and sunflowers —

Leonie: I daydream a lot.

Nadya: who’s getting 80s and 90s. She would come to school without a pen, or eraser, or calculator. Things would always just go missing with her. She never knew where her textbooks were. Her name tag managed to fall off every day.

Mel: [Leonie] sounds like a walking disaster. So, Leonie was a good friend to you when you were going through depression?

Nadya: Yeah. I was depressed and couldn’t sleep. I kept crying and that intention of dying felt real. And for some reason, she was that one person that I could talk to about it. She said, Nad, you just need to wake up really early and sleep really early. Like me! If I’m tired, I’ll sleep. I don’t care. But I’ll find a way to just wake up and finish up my work and then sleep again.

But I was more like, I had to sleep at 11pm every night. If I didn’t finish my homework, that was my fault. So I didn’t understand her method. To me it was like: what’re you talking about? How do you even function like that? But she was like, no, you got to believe me. It will work!

So I gave it one try. I slept early, and at four in the morning my handphone rang, and it was Noni singing nananana wake up! So I woke up and opened up my textbook and we studied together on the phone. But she fell asleep at some point.

I think that was the starting point. Like my brain started to learn the whole idea of adaptation. And I changed 180 degrees from who I was then to who I am now. And um, most of it is is cheesy to say but it’s really because of her.

Leonie: Aw. I love you too.

Nadya: I didn’t say that.

Leonie: Whatever.

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Mel: Have you guys gotten into trouble together?

Leonie: Define ‘trouble’.

Nadya: Everything has to do with drinking.

Leonie: I had to scoop her puke out of my sink with a spoon.

Nadya: I was going to use her toilet bowl but it was broken.

Leonie: No it wasn’t!

Nadya: Ok, I don’t know why but I was scared it would be broken if I were to puke in it.

Leonie: It’s ok, she had to scoop my puke a couple years later.

Nadya: Well, more like, hold her hair up and tell her, ok, puke it out. It was in a really warm room with pretty still air, and the room was really small. She’s down there puking and I’m like sweating and smelling all the puke... But the thing about her is that she recognises she’s puking so she doesn’t want to leave the toilet bowl unless she’s done for the night. And I’m like, no, you cannot be here. She gets very angry at some point and we’re arguing, and then she gets very stern with me and says, Nad just get the fuck out. I just need to be here until I’m done. And I’m like, when? Tomorrow morning?

She didn’t have anything on her, literally. She broke her glasses, she was like, grinding on whoever, her bag was with me... Another time she was so drunk and she went to the bathroom in my house. She lay down in the bath and turned on the tap. And she was fully dressed —

Leonie: I was initially fully dressed. I just needed to be clean.

Nadya: She couldn’t even stand up but she pulled herself off the bed to go to the bathroom. And my boyfriend was there that day. He was feeling bad for her because it was winter and she was letting the cold water run over her and was just lying there for a really long time. So my boyfriend was like, hey your friend has passed out or something. But I was really tired so I told him to take care of her. And he took a towel and [makes a gesture of covering Leonie with it] turned off the water and was like, wake up! He tried to wake her up but she didn’t wake up but at least she wasn’t naked with the towel on top of her.

Mel: Oh my god, Leonie, you could have drowned!

Leonie: I just wanted to shower!

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Mel: When you guys get drunk, are you the same kind of drunk?

Leonie: Depends on the severity of drunkenness.

Nadya: I think we’re alike when we’re drunk. Loud, obnoxious... Oh the only thing different is that they like to eat when they’re drunk but I hate to eat when I’m drunk. I just want to go home and lie down.

Leonie: We go to K-town after —

Nadya: So she’s searching for food; I’m thirsty for men.

Leonie: That’s very different. I’m like, you want to go pick up men?! I need to eat! You always end up flirting with really weird people too. Sometimes you get picked up by weird people and you don’t say anything. You just go along with it.

Nadya: I think when I’m drunk I like the interactions of flirting. I like the vibe.

Leonie: Oh yeah, you want to go back to Butter Factory days when we were in our teens? I got into a fight with someone because of you!

Nadya: I danced with a gorilla-looking guy and —

Leonie: And then she was done with it, but the gorilla wanted to still grind with her and I had to step in, right? So I had to be like, NO! And he was like, who the fuck are you? And I’m like, NO!

Nadya: So when we go eat, they'll be busy eating and I’ll be flirting with all the waiters, like annyeonghaseyo, oppa. [winks]

Leonie: It is so gross.

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Mel: How often do you guys talk?

Leonie: We’re both not big texters, actually. She’s worse than I am. I make an effort to talk to people over text if we don’t see each other, but she doesn’t.

Nadya: I don’t know how to start a conversation that is... useless. I only like conversations that feel important. Our texts are always creepily cold: "later" or "bye". There’s just no more bullshit to talk about. 

Mel: Do you guys see each other a lot?

Nadya: Not so much. Every weekend.

Mel: Oh, that’s a lot!

Nadya: The definition of meeting up is me going to her house. Like, not doing anything.

Leonie: But when we hang out it’s not really like hanging out too. So my sister is not at home, right? So her room is empty.

Melissa: Oh so [Nadya], you just move in?

Nadya: Yeah. I’ll just say hi to her parents and grandparents if they’re there, and then she’ll go to her room and I’ll go to her sister’s room. That’s it! She’ll come to my room if she’s bored.

Leonie: And then we just talk nonsense. Oh, but I always make her breakfast.

Nadya: I just stay there for food and company.

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Melissa: You guys are more like sisters than friends.

Leonie: We’re like an old bickering couple. This is something I’ve realised: the privacy boundary is a lot lower in Indonesian friendships.

Nadya: (laughing) Ours has gone too far. Like, she can just get out of her room, literally butt naked and scratching her tummy to come find me. And I can be like, butt naked with my legs open —

Leonie: The first time it happened I screamed: Nad, that’s too much! But the next time it happened I was like, ok, fine. The boundaries are very blurred.

Leonie: I think living together really changed the dynamic. We’ve always said that when we’re old we will share a house.

Nadya: I kind of imagine a house that has a huge first storey and two [staircases] that will lead to each individual’s house. But we would have a common dining area and a common main door. So when we eat it’ll be in the common space.

Mel: That’s cute. Are your partners accepting of your friendship?

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Leonie: If they aren’t, why bother?

Nadya: Yeah, we will not accept our partners if they don’t accept us. My mum once got scared of me being too close to her though.

Leonie: Most mums think I have a crush on their daughter.

Nadya: Yeah. When we hear that it sounds like a joke to us. But we did think about it before, long ago.

Leonie: Yeah, we’re compatible, but we’re not sexually attracted to each other. It’s hard.
[Turning to Nadya] I'm sorry you don't have curly hair.

Nadya: I'm sorry you don't have a penis.

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