Category Archives: Indonesia

Odds and ends

After going through  my photos of my recent visit to the Prambanan temple complex near Yogjakarta, I thought it worth to publish a few more of them in this post.

Left:       Restoration efforts
Middle: Suprisingly realistic portrait
Right:    Earthquake damage

For Dutch readers a small compilation of Indonesian words of Dutch origin:

kamar pas
kantor pos
gordyn
sprei
vitrage
spanduk
knalpot
asbak
handuk
wortel
duit

 

Left:      Toilet instruction at Kuala Lumpur International Airport.
Right:    No sumbanging in the park: VERBOTEN

On my return in  Malaysia there were some interesting stories in the newspapers. Because of censorship, the newspapers resemble some latterday Pravda with many stories about the booming economy and the general advancement of the nation. Maybe it is for this reason that redactions try to spice up the pages a bit:

It was reported by the New Straits Times that a monstrous python (7,5 m) was found near a construction site. However, shortly after it was caught by members of the Civil Defence, it suddenly died after laying an egg. The government spokesman suggested that the reptile had possibly committed suicide. The egg was handed over to the local wildlife department, presumably to investigate its culinary value. Nasi Goreng Special.

In another part of the country there were several schools which reported outbreaks of mass hysteria. An interesting phenomenon which doesn’t get a lot of attention these days. Several girls claimed they had seen a so called pontianak, a female vampire, in the toilets…. According to the paper: To date, more than eight ustaz, a bomoh and Islamic traditional experts have come to help.
An ustaz is a muslim scholar trained in Islam and Islamic law.
A bomoh is a Malay shaman.
And Islamic traditional experts are a bunch of bearded nitwits.

 

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Yogjakarta

The flight from Bali to Yogja was painless. The captain was muttering pleasantries over the intercom while we were flying amid towering cauliflowers. The girl next to me was painting her face most of the time. It needed a lot of work, apparently.
Meanwhile, I had many fears. Mainly about the woman in the seat in front of me.She would crush my knees when reclining her seat. I would ask her not to. She would be  angry. I would be polite. She would not understand me. The person next to me might mediate. But eventually, none of this happenend of course.
There was a lot of turbulence and the captain asked us to remain seated. After that put the plane on the ground. We were in Yogjakarta.

Prambanan2

Sketch of Prambanan temple

On my second day in Yogjakarta I took the bus to Prambanan. The city’s public bus system is excellently designed and line 1A is very convenient as it runs from the airport to the city centre and stops also at the Prambanan temple complex, roughly 15 km outside the city centre. Foreigners have their own entrance where they are provided with a free cup of coffee. It seems a nice gesture but one pays dearly for the privilege as, naturally, foreigners pay a hefty surcharge for visiting this site.

After  exploring Prambanan I walked around to another temple further away that predates both Prambanan and the famous Borobudur complex. It is the Candi Sewu, which, in Javanese, means A Thousand Temples, which is a very generous estimate for what in reality are some 249 temples, though most of them are now merely piles of rubble.These are, interestingly, arranged in a so called mandala figure, symbolising the Buddhist universe. After Borobudur it’s the largest Buddhist temple complex in Indonesia.

MargeSimpson8

Marge Simpson

detail2

Sculpture at the Candi Sewu

 

This photo I took of  a sculpture at the Sewu temple seems evidence that 9th century Javans had knowledge of the Simpsons.

Paradise lost

After getting bored on Lombok I set off for Gili Meno, one of three small islands not far off the coast of Lombok. These backwaters were for a long time little tropical paradises, but, unknown to me, because of sloppy research that I soon came to regret, things have changed. Ever growing numbers of backpackers are being ferried now to the islands and these are now swamped with bungalows and resorts. The irony is unavoidable when seeing all these backpackers following the herd while still upholding the belief that they are ‘independent’ travellers. It’s hard to take that seriously when you see them being transported like prised cattle with stickers on their shirts that show their destination. In order to preserve my dignity, I took the public ferry…

GiliMeno1

Somebody else’s boat

The first day I entered the water at the small harbour and snorkeled to the south end of the island. It was only when I nearly stepped on it that I saw the turtle that, after the incident, wisely swam off to the open sea. Not much later I spotted  a cuttlefish and a small ray that I only could keep in sight for a couple of seconds before it disappeared under a coral table. How does that relate to happiness: you see something you really want to see, but you only see it for a couple of seconds??  Dunno. The cuttlefish was less perturbed than the turtle and I followed it for about ten minutes, utterly fascinated by it’s ever changing colours. I observed it prying in a small hole for prey. They are very intelligent and are much wanted for their mathematical abilities. Coincidentally they taste rather good as well.
On a side note: when researching cognitive skills of non mammals like this cuttlefish, although technically a mollusc , not a fish, I also found out that goldfish have longer attention spans than most humans. That’s why I break up this blog post in shorter paragraphs with a few photos, so as to allow people to check their Facebook accounts. For others: text continues below the photo.

GiliMeno2

Bir Bintang

On later snorkeling trips I saw more turtles and witnessed several of them coming up to breathe. Just before they reached the surface I would lift my head out of the water and then see the head of this prehistoric animal pop up gasping for air.

The cuttlefish made me ponder intelligence. Many people get excited about the search for extraterrestial intelligence while it is still difficult enough to find it here on earth.Even human intelligence is often profoundly overestimated and we have no way of knowing if cuttlefish not secretly calculate cubic roots when distractedly radiating their colour patterns in a very science fiction kind of way. Snorkeling also makes you realise how intensely two dimensional we are: restricted to the surface and if we dive it can be disorienting because we are not used to dwell in three dimensions. So next time we think about the fourth dimension we should remind ourselves of the fact that most people have difficulty even finding their way in three dimensions. Especially after a few drinks. When thinking these things over some time later in a restaurant, I noticed a few geckos that were running after each other to fight over prey and I realised these Gecko Wars were also very much in a two dimensional world.

One day I met a true Lamarckian when having dinner. When we discussed evolution theory he introduced the example of a swimmer who, after becoming a trained athlete, will pass his skills (enlarged lung volume, increased muscle strength, etc) to his offspring. No matter how I argued, I could not convince him.  In the end he held on to his heretic views claiming that he had a right on his own opinion. However, that begs the question if science is a matter of opinion…
Thinking is an activity that doesn’t go well with the soaring temperatures here. There seems to be some relation between the sweltering heat and this years El Nino phenomenon. Anyway, temperatures hovered somewhere around what must have been the melting point of human beings.

From Gili Meno I travelled back to Bali where I spent some time in the charming little port town of Padang Bai. Not far from the harbour I found a nice homestay with a terrace on the second floor that enjoyed a refreshing breeze from the ocean. When I was first on Bali, I made a few sketches of stone statues guarding a temple. Now I saw these same sculptures again and I realised that much of Balinese art is very conserved, the same patterns regurgitated over and over again. It’s almost formulaic in a Disney kind of way. Maybe it is better to compare it with ancient Egyptian art: very conserved over the ages. It seems to match Balinese religion with which it evolved: the religion is an amalgam of rituals. Many people seem not to know what the reglion actually encompasses, but is of key importance to perform the rituals according to very rigid schedules. Balinese religion is Hinduistic in nature, but it seems a far cry from mainstream Hinduism as practised in India.  More intriguingly, Balinese Hinduism is one of the official religions of Indonesia, which means that according to Indonesia’s constitutional requirements, it has to be monotheistic, which it is clearly not.

On Bali I booked a ticket with AirAsia to Java. First I had found a cheap ticket with Lion Air but they had a terrible safety record. They were banned from European and American airspace and had quite a few mishaps during landings in the last few years. Their latest feat was colliding with a cow when landing somewhere not far from a runway….

When writing this I have just learned that Tripadvisor has rated Ubud in its top ten destinations based upon bookings and reviews from travellers. This shows the utter absurdity of top ten lists like these…. Ubud is a very mediocre and overrated destination in my opinion and I cannot even begin to conceive how Ubud ended up in Tripadvisors top ten.

Next time I will write about an important archeological discovery I made….

Lombok

By crossing the Lombok Strait I have traversed the Wallace Line. If you have an attention span that well exceeds comprehending cat videos on Facebook, you might read up on its significance on Wikipedia, but it is somewhat boring I have to concede. Nevertheless, I have made an illustration of the Wallace Line to keep up with  my drawing skills:

Wallace2

At my homestay I rented a scooter and rode the fifteen kilometres to Mataram, which is the district capital, to extend my visa. It’s been a while since I last navigated a scooter and I tried hard to search my brain what it knew about  Indonesian traffic rules, but all it came up with was the advice to stick to the left side of the road. When I careened around a roundabout I was careful not to hit anything, which, after all, is the essential quality of a  good driver.

Scootering2

The immigration office was well organised and after filling out some forms, copying some documents and waiting the appropriate length of time, all the bureaucracy was done with and I was told to come back in 4 days. In the afternoon I toured around on my scooter, exploring some of the Island.
A few days later I was chatting with a Scotsman at breakfast who was going diving and after talking to the guy from the dive shop, who came to pick him up, I decided to join them. It had been some ten years since I last had dived and I was a bit apprehensive about the procedures, but it all came back to me pretty quickly. We set sail to the Gili Islands and after gearing up we plunged in. On the first dive we saw Green Turtles from up close and on the second dive we explored a sunken pontoon off the coast of Gili Meno. Though we were not technically certified to dive in a confined space, the divemasters apparently judged our buoyancy skills sufficient to allow us inside. It was exhilarating to pop up in the air bubble and take out our regulators to shout at each other some 18 metres under water…

diving4

How did that work again?

diving5

Where is the camera?

 

diving6

Feeling boastful…

Back at the immigration office, I had to pay 355.000 rupiah and in exchange they took my fingerprints and told me to wait. An American girl was fined more than 500 dolllars for overstaying her visa. When she was waiting for her turn, she confided to me that she was going to get married to the angry looking youth with dreadlocks who was sitting barefoot in a corner next to her.After she had collected her documents, she laughed at me, when she passed me, and said they would go to Boston after the marriage. Fuck Boston, the uncouth aborigine said, and followed her on her wait out.
When my turn came, I  was granted to stay another 30 days in the country.

Diving is very nice but it comes at an exorbitant cost and so, in the quest for an alternative pastime, I have taken a few surfing classes, which are far less ruinous to my budget.After some initial mishaps, I actually surfed and it was glorious to ride the waves.. Unfortunately,  the paddling on the board caused bruises on my lower ribs and it became quite painful, so I am not sure if I can pursue this career…

 

Bali

Bali is a very densely populated island. More than 4 million people mean more than 730 people per square kilometre. And they all ride motorbikes and when they not actually ride them, they leave them somewhere on the pavement, which is unspeakably annoying.

In Ubud I found lodging at a homestay in a very nice bungalow in a wonderful garden with many small birds and butterflies. It was built right behind the family temple and it was surprisingly quiet given the aforementioned population density. In the evening the birds and butterflies were replaced by mosquitos that numbered at least 730 of these insects per square metre.

During the Galungan festival the servant who usually served breakfast was gone home for the religious celebrations and it was now served by his employer, Mr. Jaya.
You want more pancake? he asked.
Er… yes, I like pancakes very much, I replied.
You want more coffee?
Yes please.
Mr. Jaya proved an excellent replacement.
Later I was paying him three days accommodation and two breakfasts, which came to 430.000 rupiah as I had calculated.
I gave Mr. Jaya 500.000 rupiah.
This is okay? he asked, looking friendly through his thick glasses.
I need 70.000 back, I explained.
Oh yes, he said. He clearly had no idea of  money.

Some mornings his daughter performed her religous duties. She placed with infinite grace little baskets of flowers throughout the garden, including one on my porch. After that she ignited a stick of incense. She took a flower  between her fingers and sprinkled water on the flowers, waved her hand as if performing a magic trick and dropped the last flower in the little basket.

Bali_offer

The main religion on Bali is Hinduism and these omnipresent little offerings are visual reminders of that.

One evening it was raining and I was sitting on my little porch when I heard something through the torrents of rain and which was slowly approaching  my bungalow. I peered.into the darkness but could not make  out what it was. Some sort of animal it would appear. When I had found my torch I first saw two beady eyes and then it occurred to me that the eyes belonged to a fish. A very large fish that lay flapping in front of my porch.
When the fish was sluggishly flapping away, I thought it was raining exceedingly hard.

Kopi_Luwak

Luwak coffee

As a coffee addict I thought I should do a tasting of a cup of Luwak coffee which is served on the island at very competitive prices. The reason I wanted to try it, was the remarkable fashion in which it is produced. It is also known as cat poo coffee, which really says it all.

It was nice…