I’ve been looking forward to visiting Java again and showing Pete around a bit. I lived in Jakarta for 5 months in 2000 and have visited a few times since. It’s not a city that’s easy to love, but it was our first stop in Java. We stayed with my friend Jacky and it was just great to see her again too. We even cooked food in her kitchen which was a treat because we’ve not cooked for so long.
Jakarta had a real buzz about it and for me, not having visited for a few years, I thought that things seemed to be on the up. One of the noticeable improvements is the new busway system – modeled on a system in Bogota, Columbia according to Jacky. We tried it out and took a trip to the old colonial centre of town, Kota. It worked pretty well and the nice new silver buses were air conditioned and flew past the traffic in their (mostly) dedicated bus lane – other traffic’s not supposed to use the bus lane, but some of it can’t resist. We also visited my favourite bit of the city, Sunda Kelapa. This is the old port and I don’t think all that much has changed here for a hundred years or more. On the day we visited there were lots of big wooden ships from Sulawesi being loaded with bags of cement – all the loading done by hand. It was amazing to watch the men walk up the gangplanks to the boats high above with bare feet and bags of cement over their shoulders – all done in the sweltering heat of the city.
Our next stop in java, after a 10 hour train journey, was the cultural capital of Yogyakarta. We made a trip to Prambanan (the most important Hindu temple in Java) and other ‘hidden temples’ nearby. We were shown around by Gale and Wiwit, two lovely friendly guides.
Gale told us lots of stories from the Hindu tradition – about Siva, Ganesha and especially Siva’s protector, Kala. We saw his image everywhere. Kala was a creature who in order to show loyalty to the god, Siva, ate himself – all of himself except his head. After proving his loyalty Siva allowed him to be his protector and so many of the temples we visited had Kala over the main door, protecting Siva and bringing doom to those who came with evil intentions.
We learned more about Indonesia’s religious traditions in Surabaya – our last stop in Java. We went there so that I could visit a Chinese mosque which is built in the shape of a Chinese temple. The Chinese in Indonesia are mostly not Muslim, so this was a special place. The ethnic Chinese in this area are descended from the Hui who have practiced Islam in China for centuries. The people who work at the mosque were super friendly and we even got to meet the Imam. The mosque is called Mosque Cheng Hoo after the Chinese Muslim man, Cheng Hoo who traveled to Southeast Asia in the fourteenth century and is said to have been among those who introduced Islam to Indonesia. There’s a relief of Cheng Hoo painted onto a wall of the mosque with Cheng Hoo in a boat and the hills of China in the background.
We also visited another mosque in Surabaya, mosque Ampel. Sunan Ampel was one of the holy men who originally brought Islam to Indonesia and he is buried at the mosque. We weren’t allowed into the mosque or into the tomb area, but the people at the mosque very kindly showed us around and told us a little bit about the history. Really interesting stuff.
Umm… I think Susan and I might have put on quite a bit of extra weight recently.
We were walking home from a reasonably healthy meal in Yogyakarta last week and we saw a street vendor cutting slices every which way into a loaf of bread, filling it to just over capacity with chocolate, peanuts and condensed milk, smothering it in butter and then frying it on every side until it was a solid, dripping brick of… well of bread, butter, peanuts, condensed milk and melted chocolate.
“I guess we should try it…”. “Seems to be a bit of a local cultural experience…”. “That’s right – when in Rome…”. And all that.
I’ve never before eaten anything so disgustingly delicious, sickeningly wicked, sweet and tasty, absolutely void of any nutritional value – and on such a grand scale. We had three of them during our stay. We excused ourselves by saying that we liked the street vendor – that we should go get another one so that we could chat to him again. He was a pretty nice guy actually. Apparently he invented the idea. He calls it Roti Bakar. Fried bread. Go figure.
But our short stay in Java wasn’t just about the food – or the coffee (I love coffee, I love tea, I love the Java Jive and it loves me). We saw some beautiful scenery and some really interesting historical buildings. The highlight for me was definitely the Dieng Plateau – a volcanically volatile and very fertile area to the northwest of Yogyakarta. On the Dieng Plateau we visited beautiful lakes, bubbling smelly mud pools and the odd ancient Hindu temple all with a backdrop of sprawling rice terraces, low lying clouds and a giant volcano in the distance.
In Surabaya, after visiting some temples and mosques, we found ourselves with a few extra hours up our sleeves. It was an extremely hot, smelly, polluted and wet day so we took refuge in a shopping centre near our hotel. As luck would have it there was a “Timezone” on the top floor – full of arcade games and, my favourite, an air hockey table. Hurrah! Three US dollars bought us about two hours worth of credit. I just scraped through with an overall victory in air hockey but Susan whooped me in the basketball shoot out. We were both absolutely terrible at the car racing games (multiple non qualifiers) but it was still a load of fun.