Hello from Yogyakarta.
tongue-twister; try it. Most foreigners say yogy, like in Yogy-Bear followed by "karta," as in Jakarta; much
to the amusement of locals. If you want to pronounce it correctly, try it
again giving the Y's a "J" sound. Still hard, isn't it.
Eventually I learned the trick: just say "jog" (rhymes with
vogue) followed by Jakarta. Even that is a tongue twister for a while.
Residents have no trouble with it at all and seem surprised that anyone
Indonesian, Japanese and Australian tourists make up the bulk of visitors, and one finds a smattering of English spoken wherever they congregate... and spend their money. The Indonesian people are gentle, friendly and polite. I have seen nothing of hostility, predatory or threatening behavior since I got here. There are police, but the ones I've seen have all been lounging in their waiting boxes around town; it doesn't look like they have much to do. TV news in Indonesian seems to deal with large drug busts, terrorists on remote islands, and political attacks on George Bush for linking Indonesia to terrorism and planning war with Iraq.
Arriving late in the afternoon I chose the historic Hotel Garuda, a 4 star establishment only a block from the city's only train station (My blisters continue to scream "don't walk you idiot!"). At $36, it offers cultural ambience and modern amenities.
The Saturday I arrived every high-school marching band in the Province, together with people dressed in the traditional costumes of various ancient Javanese cultures were assembling in the hotel's parking lot, blocking access to the lobby entrance. Half the hotel staff had abandoned their stations to watch the festivities anyway, so I just hung back and watched as energetic, enthusiastic kids marched or danced for their parents and the throngs gathered along the parade route.
Once settled and nap taken, I checked out the hotel attractions. A traditional percussion band performs each afternoon in the lobby while guests sit around sipping pineapple juice. In addition to the massive deep bass drums and peculiar Marimba-like bamboo instruments, such bands always include one or more sets of "tuned pots," at least they look a lot like upturned cooking pots to me. The sound produced by the assemblage is not unpleasant, but lacks rhythm and melody... it is not Mozart. The ambience of the hotel interior is turn of the century... early 1900's reflecting the Dutch colonial tastes.
My ear infection is now over a week old: pain and deafness come and go along with stuffy sinuses. It does seem to be getting better slowly, especially when I listen to my body and rest a lot, something my still painful blister also appreciates. I am a veteran of the Blister Wars so I must be the dumbest guy in the army for failing to recognize early signs of toe bubbles growing on my tender feet... and for ignoring the consequences of not giving them time to heal once discovered. Now, any walking at all is quite painful. It will give me a good excuse to try the pedicabs parked five deep at every corner around the busy commercial center.
The principle shopping mall in town, the Malioboro is a large five story airy open interior structure with a modern IBIS Hotel attached. The best $2.40/hr Internet cafe in Yogyakarta is located off the hotel lobby. Other slower, non-air-conditioned cybercafes charged anywhere from $0.60 to $1.56/hr. The hotel cybercafe saw a lot of me even though it required a ten minute hobble from my first hotel. Eventually I got tired of running back and forth and switched to the $37.50 Ibis with its English language TV, quick access to the mall and daily $5.10 buffet banquet lunches offering authentic Indonesian delicacies.
Indonesians like their food hot and spicy; eventually I learned to go easy on anything colored red as it likely would burn a hole in my tongue in large quantities. Cooks here use three kinds of spicy seasoning: One burns like hell instantly and in small quantities, another starts off quite mild and slowly grows to pain, and the third actually is pleasantly mild. But, one never knows in advance what's hidden behind the reddish color of a dish.
One of the unique tasty treats I'm enjoying is a thin fish flavored puffed rice cake that looks something like a warped pancake. It has the texture of "Corn Curls." Every meal in Indonesia includes some form of dish called Nasi Goreng. Nasi Goreng is a stir fried rice and is a staple of the diet here. Most meals also offer colorful bowls of fresh fruits. Local people eat with a fork for maneuvering, cutting or pushing food and a Tablespoon for shoveling it into the mouth; looks crude until I got used to seeing everyone do it.
One day I visited the ancient Hindu temple complex at Prambanan and took a few pictures. Yogyakarta is justly famous for its batik industry and artisans... and artists! California batik is crude by comparison with the masterpieces produced here. Many of the finer works are offered framed in addition to bolts of fabric for clothing. This is one time I regret traveling light and taking nothing back home but memories and photos. Sadly, with no place to process my now full camera, I got no photos of the remarkable work either, but take a look at this site for examples of "ordinary batik."
Yahoo.com is limiting mass e-mail submissions to 100 per hour. That means I must plan ahead as It takes two batches to reach everyone on my lists now. Yahoo says the limitation is required to prevent abuse. Could be, considering all the SPAM I've been getting in my inbox.
With thirty-six flight segments in my initial itinerary and my wish to remain flexible, I spent an entire day with a hotel travel agent and $20 worth of additional long distance phone calls to the Malaysia Airline offices in Jakarta and Surabaya trying to get dates changed and some flights cancelled. Each agent seemed able to deal with only one transaction at a time. My complete itinerary boggles their minds. Also, one agent at Malaysia Airlines would tell me one thing and another would tell me something entirely different. Each seems to be an authority in their own right, able to make decisions about which conditions to ignore and which to enforce. That's generally good for me; when I don't like what one tells me I can just try another :-)
With a large bright Mc Donald's restaurant in the mall next to the Ibis hotel, it became my refuge anytime I needed something cold to drink or cool air to dry my sweaty shirt. One afternoon while enjoying a McFlurry, four high-school girls gathered around my table and asked if they could "interview" me for their English class. Naturally I agreed; a couple of them were kind of cute and seemed delighted to have a white haired old man flirting with them. We did get to the end of their dozen items eventually, but not before I had asked them my own questions about religious practices and attitudes toward "unbelievers" in their country.
The group consisted of two Muslim girls and two Christian girls. One of the Muslim girls wore the Jilbab hair covering, the other didn't. My questions got the sort of responses one would expect from a comparable group of American teens: "all that stuff is irrelevant." Most of my questions got one word answers, but they told me enough I could see such questions were quite unimportant to them. However, they did listen with rapt attention as I described my encounters and observations of women and religious practices in other Muslim countries around the world.
As best I can tell, kids here are being taught religious tolerance and public institutions like schools are practicing it. When asked about their opinion of the violent Islamic Fundamentalists in their own country, one replied "I hate it!" and I could hear she meant it. One of their questions dealt with what I disliked about Indonesia and I replied "all the smokers!" The girls all nodded in agreement. While polite and willing to put out smokes when someone objects, nearly all men smoke in this country.
During my visit to the Sultan's Palace a reporter from the local television station interviewed me on camera regarding my opinions about security in Java. That evening I watched the local channels expecting to see they had provided me another fifteen minutes of "fame." But, my mug never showed up; my comments must not have been what they were looking for.
Walking down the sidewalks where all the street vendors set up shop is guaranteed to produce a continuous stream of generally polite offers to "just take a look... no need to buy..." mostly batik products... and of course, the offers of tri-wheel "taxi" rides "to the temples and palaces..." which turn out to include unscheduled stops at batik galleries and antique stores. When I leave Yogya it will be for a brief pause in Jakarta and then on to Kuching on the island of Borneo in Malaysia. So that is where the next postcard is likely to be postmarked. (Now a week later, I finally found a place to process the pictures I took in Bali, Surabaya and here in Yogyakarta. I have not, however found anyplace to create webpage versions of the postcards. So, for the time being it is back to plain old text.) More in the next postcard.
Fred L Bellomy
PS: Check out this site for interesting background information about Yogyakarta. FB