|Subject: Re: Indonesian itinerary - Long Email|
I visited Java and Bali over December '95 and January '96, so some of
the info might be a bit outdated, although the impressions remain.
For the record, I also spent ten days visiting friends in Jakarta and
Bandung in early '99 and figure I wasted about nine of those days.
(I don't much like Java at all.) I doubt if much has really changed
since '96 as the country has gone through massive economic
difficulties in the interim. Here's what I wrote about Jogya at the
Sunday morning, after a light breakfast, I joined the hordes and packed onto a small mini-bus for the semi-standing one hour trip out to Borobudur, forty kilometers northwest of Yogya. Borobudur is one of the great South East Asian monuments to Buddhism, and has apparently been called one of the seven wonders of the world. On a small hill, the open temple is like a massive pyramid, 123 meters wide, constructed in six square layers surmounted by three circular layers, rising 42 meters above a rich, fertile plain surrounded by peaked volcanoes. Each layer is a separate terrace overlooking the countryside in all four directions. Walk around the terraces, climbing the narrow stone steps between them, and there are 1460 carved grey sandstone reliefs of the life of Buddha, and 1212 decorative reliefs. In different poses, and often missing heads or limbs which were lost to the ravages of time, volcanic or seismic action, or invading vandals over the last 12 centuries, there are 504 various statues of the Buddha. Built at the end of the 7th and beginning of the 8th centuries, Borobudur was abandoned sometime before the 13th century; the hill eventually became waterlogged and the entire temple began to crumble and slip. By the 17th century it was only an passing reference in the relation of the travels of a prince. The vegetation grew over it, and Borobudur was forgotten. However, the ruins were discovered by the British Governor General, Sir Stamford Raffles at the beginning of the 19th century, and some efforts were made to investigate. But the first real restorative/reconstructive efforts were made between 1907 and 1911, by a Dutch engineer. Finally, between 1973 and 1983, under the auspices of UNESCO, the entire complex of Borobudur was dismantled, stones were cleaned, replaced and repositioned, and the whole structure was strengthened with reinforced concrete. It is now surrounded and protected by an 85 hectare park, with spacious lawns and large trees, as well as a small archaeological museum, a study centre, a stone conservation centre, and of course, a large parking lot and about 100 kiosks for souvenirs and food. Apparently the temple is still used by Indonesian Buddhist ceremonies, at least once a year. From Borobudur, I found my way in a roundabout fashion, (another misdirected bus ride) back into Yogya, and relaxed for the remainder of the afternoon, chatting to three university students on their new year's break, before joining another traveller from England, and a couple from Switzerland for dinner and New Year's Eve activities. About 11:45 that night, the seven of us went out to join Yogya's crowds on Jalan Malioboro, the main street running about 1 1/2 kilometers through the centre of the city, from the railway station to the old sultan's Palace in the south. The street was packed with people, solid from one side to the other; there wasn't even space for becaks to pedal through. And there was incredible noise. Although there was no music whatsoever, not even a cassette player, and no fireworks, people were blowing a great variety of horns, some of them about 2/3 of a meter long and as deafening as the blast from an angry trucker. The centre of the street was a mass of movement, with the sides line with people sitting on kerbs and sidewalks in front of the stores. There were still a few food and craft stalls in operation. It seemed that one half of Yogya's population line the street to watch the other half slowly wander from one end of the street to the other, making noise. It was a totally mindless, purposeless, meaningless event. When midnight struck, or we determined from looking at our own watches that it must have at least passed, we too wandered about a kilometer along the street before eventually turning back towards the hotel about 1:30 a.m. Despite all the noise and supposed celebration, people did not look happy or joyous. They sat, solemn faces gazing at other solemn faces, on the kerbs and sidewalks, where many of them would sleep for the night, as there was obviously no transportation anywhere. I would guess that fewer than 5% were actually smiling, although there was absolutely no drinking apparent, (an advantage of a Muslim population) nor any hostility of any kind. On the way back to the hotel, we passed a large open hall where we saw part of a performance of wayang kulit, the special Javanese shadow puppets. Unlike the wayang golek, which are three dimensional and costumed, the wayang kulit are made of flat leather, fantastically intricately painted, and held up against a white sheet or screen with a strong light shining through from behind. As the light is strong, there is more than a silhouette; the colours, details, and shapes are exotic, flamboyant, and brilliant. The puppeteer can manage only one or two puppets at once, and only the arms can move, although sometimes they can be extravagantly flipped, expressing some kind of conflict or fight. While manipulating the puppets, the puppeteer provides a constant narration, sometimes accompanied by a high pitched woman's song, and always by a huge percussion orchestra, for the part that we saw, predominantly pounding drums and crashing cymbals, all amplified until it was almost painful. I don't know how all the Indonesian art patrons spread out on the stone floor on both sides of the screen and around the edges of the open hall could possibly sleep as well as they apparently did. New Year's Day began with a late breakfast. The day was slightly overcast and there was a very light breeze, but I was still running sweat before 9:30. I walked down Jalan Malioboro to the Kraton, the Sultan's Palace, but found it closed for the holiday. Near it were two rather dirty, worn, tatty museum pavilions with some haphazardly arranged displays; some items almost appeared simply to have been piled in the corner of a glass-doored display case to gather dust. Another traveller who had visited the Kraton the day before told me that it was like the two pavilions, and that I hadn't really missed a significant experience, although I did miss the daily gamelan (special percussion orchestra) performance in the palace. From the Kraton, I wandered westward, towards Taman Sari, the ruins of an old water garden used by the sultan. It is spread out over the equivalent of several city blocks, and has crumbled walls, gates, carved stone facades, an ornate swimming pool with small enclosed overlooking galleries for the sultan and his harem, as well as a maze of alleys and lanes filled with small batik shops and studios. There is little apparent attempt at preservation; the walls and steps are obviously deteriorating, visitors climb over everything, graffiti marks many stone faces, there are no restrictions and no discernible effort at restoration. Near Taman Sari are about a dozen very narrow laneways making up the bird market, although it's not completely restricted to birds. Hanging from poles above, stacked high at the sides and front of shops, narrowing the walkway to little more than a meter, the variously shaped and sized cane cages contain an assortment of all kinds of birds, some small and chirping like canaries, others like parrots, and still more fighting cocks, feathers glistening bright yellow, orange, red, and iridescent blue or green. A few cages hold rabbits, another a small monkey, and a few have puppies or kittens. Near the street are stalls with large tray-like baskets spread with food for the pets and chickens - ant eggs, crawling with red and black bodied ants; small white larvae, wriggling in a mass of worms; sacks and baskets of corn, wheat, and other seeds.
From Jogya, I headed by bus across the island eventually to Bali. My impressions of Bali were much more positive, although the beach area around Kuta is basically a big party scene, packed wall to wall with young tourists, many from Australia, or honeymooners from Japan. Other parts of the island are magnificent and it's small enough that one can get around in just a few hours from place to place. (An entire circumnavigation of the island *could* be done in a day, although who'd ever want to?) Journal/emails from the travel here also aailable.
I visited Singapore during travels over '98 - '99 and absolutely love the city. If you want, I can send you my journal of that period, either privately or on the list, although it does take up lots of kb. (I'm working on putting together a full pdf file with photos and all of my travels which I'll make available to anyone who wants it - but that could be a few months down the road yet.)
I also have quite an amount of experience in Thailand (including all that in the aforementioned pdf to come), including spending last winter just languishing beside the Maekhong River in northeastern Thailand, so if you've got anything specific you'd like to ask, please feel free. Putting my entire journal entries up would probably shut down the list! :-) I did send them sporadically as emails to the old Travel-L list and have forwarded the lot to a few people who have expressed interest. Probably easiest now if you ask questions or indicate a specific part of Thailand in which you're interested.