I took a quick break before the silly season

Jakarta challenged me, Jogjakarta did the same. I found myself comparing and that’s something that just won’t work.  Jogja came as a shock, I was actually reminded of India when I travelled there years ago, every street packed with a million shops and every spare inch of space taken up with, in the case of Jogja, motor bikes. It was not charming, but then having your fiercely held convictions challenged, seldom is. It rattles you.


My concept of how to live is comfortable, rarely difficult or demanding. And yet as I write this in Jogjakarta, the air is being pelted with what I can only assume to be competing mosques or a mosque full of radical loudmouths with the speakers on full volume. Doesn’t worry the locals, they just ignore it, they may be used to it, I found that the cries of the Mullah at 4.15 am a little daunting and the repeat performance at about 6 am, more so.

Pool Jogja

Bit between the teeth I had organised a car and a guide for the day and the much publicized ancient monuments (Borobudur and Prambanan) were on the hit list. I armed myself with a pint of water and grim determination, gritted my teeth, sprawled in the back of the taxi and tried to enjoy the 2 hour drive through, no, you’re wrong, not paddy fields and bucolic scenes of happy and contented farmers, but endless miles of grotty shops.


Yogyakarta streets

I know, I know… its me, I am in the wrong, got the whole thing round about. But when we eventually arrived at Borobudur, to be confronted by a US$20 entrance fee for ‘International Travellers’ and a $3.00 fee for the local accompanying me. And then, made to deck out in some god awful chastity belt like sarong that for reasons that defy the imagination,  the local authorities had decided a pair of shorts pants was an insult to the deities (Borobhudur was built by the Tantric practising Mahayanists who absolutely would not have shied off a penis or yoni or two – please see any illustration of Yamantaka!)



And then made to work my way through row after row after row of stalls selling all manner of merchandise along with a vast number of likely lads trying to encourage you to buy a souvenir or two and be told, that their names were Osca, Bang Bang and Tony… and when I moved on, they cheerfully said they would pursue me when I emerged, mentally invigorated, but physically exhausted and pounce upon my wallet.


Thank heavens for my sojourns in many Asian countries where I learned the art of saying no in many many languages. And with force.

Its pointless to complain. This is an Indonesian National Monument. I have no rights. Mind you that said, it could be suggested to the Indonesian authorities who are in charge of ancient national monuments, that they may like to take a quick look at charges and, perhaps something other than a dance performance might be needed to quell the beating heart of enthusiastic tourists who have, in the case of Borobadhur, made the body and soul destroying march up the steps. Here I have to confess that I went to level one, that I think was four flights of steps. I suspect that the original builders of the stupa had the adherents holiness and karma in mind or, they were bloody tall with astoundingly strong legs. The steps would not be allowed today, the uprights wayyyyy to high. By the time I reached the first level, oxygen would have helped. I retained enough energy to circumnambulate the holy place just one time when three is usual. I also needed to keep enough energy to fend off Osca, BamBam and Tony as well as the several others determined that a share of my wallet would be theirs. I won but just!

Walking to Borobodur

I think that some deeply embedded memory of my many visits to India and the frequent trips to the Buddhist Holy places sort of kicked in and I was reminded that Borobadhur for all its tourist hype, was at one time in a country that had become the epicentre of Buddhist thought and debate, that the main movers, shakers, thinkers and philosophers of India had moved there to be up with the trends of Mahayana thought. Its even interesting to contemplate how they did that, think for example that the stupa is said to have been built in 790 ad, that makes it old and, its fair to say that shipping and transport was not something done easily. It could well have been the Arabian sea fishermen who had developed the Dhows and were adept at crossing great tracks of ocean.  As of course were the Chinese and Europeans.


It is of course also true that the Hindu teachers also had extended their influences into the Indonesian archipelago, indeed Hinduism remains as it was first brought to Bali all those years ago. There was great debate and competition between the Buddhists and the Hindu masters, so there was possibly the reason of competition, but the fact too that the region of Yogyakarta is located uniquely in the centre of a number of Volcanoes and this has some association with both Buddhist and Hindu temple complexes. The local rulers have a strong connection with Mount Merapi as a means to placate the local gods who are said to reside there.

Hindu Temple

Borobodur is now, no matter how much the authorities may want us to believe otherwise, a tourist complex with very occasional religious moments. Its why I was somewhat stunned when the reason for the skirt was that the gods would be offended… I have been Buddhist for way too many years and to the best of my knowledge, their are no all powerful deities in Buddhism, there are Yidams, but these are tantric deities that are bound to the mind… another story. I suspect that it has more to do with local Muslim beliefs rather than Buddhist. Mind you I was deeply offended when a western tourist was posing by replacing the missing head of the Buddha statue with her own… not nice, and not even slightly polite.

After escaping the clutches of Osca Bam Bam and Tony, I was accosted by two ladies who were selling hats and decided that modelling them, one on top of the other would illustrate the correct style to those unaware of how to wear a hat, in Indonesia.

hat sellers

Navigating through the crowds attracted to my money, with one almost cracking it (they were selling some miniature bikes that started at $20 and came down to $2 after I had unkindly played their game) but then I decided that extra baggage was not an option, we found the driver, reclining on a chair, sipping tea and smoking the inevitable clove perfumed cigarette. I asked for lunch!!! A bit of discussion and we were off to a fish barbecue restaurant. Yogyakarta is a seaside city, just 27 kilometres from the ocean and because of that, seafood forms a vital part of local cuisine.

You swing out of Borobodur and straight down a road lined with hundreds of stone carvers. Its very hard to see if the carved items are moulded painted concrete or genuine. In the end that’s academic, the great mystery is what the hell they do with them? I am told that a lot are sold to tourists and find their way into fake tropical (Bali is a popular style choice) swimming pools. It’s not a mystery I could come near to solving, but I suspect that a lot of times the statues are passed around  in the home market with each reseller adding a bit here and there. Every bit counts.

The fish barbecue place was tucked away in what was, not so long back, a rice paddy. One of the great joys of life in the tropics is the lack of walls and this place was a series of platforms that floated in the old rice paddy that had been permanently flooded and was well stocked with fresh water fish. The cooking was done on a fire that was made with coconut husks and when they fanned it, a ferocious heat was generated. The cooking was done with much speed and energy and I suspect, a little too much flame. Those in the know (my two dining companions) ordered a fish that was first bathed in a paste, inside and out that helped to retain some moisture of the flesh, I think that it was considered that a westerner would not enjoy the spicey (read chilli) taste of the marinade and so mine was cooked plain. Eyebrows raised when I heaped the delicious sambal (again read chilli) onto the fish, but the two large prawns I was anxious to taste, had become tough and dry. Not memorable meal, but not slack either.


fishdinner 2 fish restaurant

fish dinner


Dinner served

coconut BBQ fire


Monuments must take a back seat when the heavens open and a storm of vast proportions descends. I had always held in the back of my mind that I was in one of the most seismically active spots on the planet, so at any minute was expecting the earth to move or Mount Merapi to spew forth ash and lava. When the storm, hit I was convinced that my worst fears were being answered and ordered the driver back to the hotel, I needed a pot of tea, a comfortable seat, some reassurance that the world was not ending (prematurely if you are to believe the doomsday prophecies that declare the end of the earth since the Mayan calendar ended???) and that I was fully prepared. Mind you a plate of nicely point cut delicious cucumber sandwiches would have been good. In the end I got my tea and a bloody huge storm that had lightning striking, but not silencing the calls to prayer who, I assume, simply turned up the volume and entered the spirit of it all. I must have looked slightly pathetic as I covered my ears to protect them from the Muslims and the thunder. Awesome.

Mt Merapi

Its an amazing thing that Indonesia is covered with 127 active volcanoes and every day experiences some sort of seismic activity. The region that I was in, had four active volcanoes within a very short distance with Mount Merapi being amongst the most active

(see http://www.volcanodiscovery.com/merapi.html)

Its hard to imagine what it is like living under a constant threat of fiery explosions, by the same token its hard to imagine what it is like living with the threat of a Tsunami as my friends who live in a region called Pangandaran, on the south cost of (west) Java do. In 2006 their house and pretty much all of the area was swept clean by a Tsunami, happily with very few deaths. But the threat remains. Amazing that these seismically active hot spots are often the places with very high populations which can be decimated.

Tropical gardens are beautiful things, they suit my predilection for wild untamed gardens that have a natural flow. I find myself not liking gardens that are contrived, having said that it is hard not to love the highly contrived gardens of Europe that are designed often to look natural, but very regimented at the same time. Java is not so lauded as Bali, that’s a sad thing. In so many ways, Java and the other nearly 2000 inhabited islands have much to offer, of the total number of islands some 6000. Many of these islands are very very beautiful and in fact quite untouched by the ravening hoards of boguns who seem to have claimed Bali (in part… see below) as their own.

Tropical Plants 7

Tropical Plants 3

Tropical Plants 4

Tropical plants 2

The gardener at the modest hotel I was staying at was a Javanese farmer who simply pottered about tending the wild growths, taming them a little and in general allowing the rampant growth to proceed at its own pace, whilst keeping pathways open to the pool and the rooms surrounding it. It was glorious and given the chance I would have cheerfully moved in. I love the tropics, I love the all embracing warmth, the vibrancy of climate and the lack of cold. I remain deeply bothered about seismic activity and natural catastrophes. Mind you, could it be said that the western invasion of Bali was not a catastrophe?

Tropical Plants 6

I had been lucky enough some months back to meet a young man called Ern Adrian, he came from the area on the south coast (above) called Pangandaran, his story is often frustrating, always inspiring and sometimes sad. He was given away as a child, not an uncommon thing when the birthing family feels unable to properly raise the child. Ern was given to a local family who never quite, by my standards, got it right. His natural tendency towards caring more for his fellow humans than himself, saw him often used as a servant, very much alone without support, unable to complete his college degree and yet, doing all he could for the children of his area. Ern was working at a school as a ‘social’ teacher which allowed him to be able to help the children, work with them, give to them and be a great boost. He was receiving a modest wage that barely allowed him to live and meant that he often went hungry.

ern n bike

Ern managed to touch my heart and so began a friendship that I hope will mean he will complete his last remaining semester at University and get his Bachelors degree, to do the things he dreams of for the children of his region. A simple thing, a library for the children at school where none now exists.

Typhoid is a terrible things and not long after I connected with Ern he was diagnosed with a mild form of the ravening wasting disease. Caught in time, Ern was stuck in hospital where he was medicated, fed and kept for a few weeks. He complained that he was wasting time, that his pupils needed him, that the local football club also needed him and that his adopted family would not be happy when he did not clean the house… I insisted and fortunately won the day. In the end his sickness was cured and he was able to return to his much loved school.

Recently his birth family has begun to take some notice of him, he connected again with his family and after a while, they actually gave him a  gift of a cheap motor bike and he was thrilled, it meant a great deal to him to have them recognise him.


Erns dream to help the children of his town is a simple one, but filled with the love, kindness and simple generous spirit that are part of him. With a little help, he will achieve his dream and the children on Pangandaran will be able to read stories and books that we take for granted. I once gave Ern A$50 and he went straight out and bought the children books and pencils.

After three days in Jogja, I flew off to Bali. I am slightly at a loss as to what to say about Bali, this is a place of immense beauty, people by a race that is deeply committed to its religious and cultural heritage, yet made to cope with am invasion of what can only be described as horrendous, demanding people and they do this with great equanimity and calm, taking from them all the money they can and retaining all of their culture. It is a sight to behold, the inundated areas of Kuta, Seminyak etc etc with the surging population of poorer end tourists, the well heeled all seem to be able to find some sort of remote accommodation to gratify their need for luxury. Small hotels and resorts that have crept into the more guarded enclaves of Balinese land, to satisfy the needs of rich folk. In the end, owing to laws that govern Bali and the fact that Bali is governed by Balinese, even the Javanese are not making great headway into the rich pickings of the tourist invasion. Much of the land that has been allowed to be used is done so on long (thirty year) leases which in time, the Balinese will simply march back in and reclaim. Seems to me to be some sort of poetic justice.

I had booked a villa in Seminyak on the premise that it was most likely, although not certainly, on the beach, I sort of fancied the idea of flopping by the beach in drowsy somnambulance being waited on by Ketut. It was not going to happen, my villa, as palatial as it was with two massive bedrooms (easily big enough for a 30 people party), my own swimming pool, two amazing bathrooms that in fact daunted me. I did not even use the sunken mini swimming pool bath, I simply could not imagine where all the water was going to come from to fill the thing. And what in the name of all that’s holy do you do in a bath like that? Even the shower was an issue, I could not work out why one needed that much space to kind of ponce around in while dodging the water or drenching.  It even contained its own kitchen, mind you the gas kept on going out under the saucepan that was the way you heated water for a cup of tea. You simply had to have a complaint in all that over the top extravagance.

Pool Bali

bath Bali

Bathroom Bali

It was schoolies week… the villa across the way was taken by four Australian school boys who had music blaring and thought that the rest of the world did not exist as they cavorted, yelled, leapt into what must have been a rapidly emptying pool as they did bomb jumps and sent the water cascading over the eight foot high wall. Needless to say I had to have a small moan at reception who sent a security guard to remind the obviously, scions of the well heeled (Perth WA families I was found out) that there were other guests. They even managed to actually climb the eight foot high walls, naked and plunge into the pool. An interesting and diverting site.

The following day I had a day with a Balinese guide who had agreed to show me a different Bali. Since this was my first and I suspect last trip to Bali, I was keen to try and understand the way the place worked and see a little of the real culture. In as much as he did take me to places that perhaps the normal tourist may not have visited as part of a tour, I did manage to go to Ubud, to sample the much talked about roast pig and I was somewhat underwhelmed, but my son who was there not so long before, was very impressed. Age maybe makes me that much fussier.

Ikat weave Bali

Ikat weave Bali 2

I was lucky to betaken to a private gallery in Ubud where large numbers of the various Bali schools of painters were hung. It is interesting that the European artists who were responsible for the now well known Ubud School of art, are still alive and still often seen encouraging Balinese talented artists. I am lucky enough to own one of the paintings of this school dating back to the 1950’s see below.

I must have asked the driver a million questions as my curiosity was peaked over and over as we rolled through the green hills. I think what was the most impressive thing was the way that the Balinese have and do manage to control and maintain their culture with very little diminution or outside influence. They seem to accomplish this with a smile and a sweet attitude, but with a steely resolve. I am moderately certain that I would be unable to be so circumspect and would have likely deeply insulted several tourists and prospective investors.

My guide was forthcoming about a wealthy European who had taken a  shine to Bali and had decided to build a house there to be used for a few months every year. The story went that he was able to secure a 30 year lease on an beautiful beach side block on a relatively secluded part of the island and had built there a magnificent house complete with ??? swimming pool, servants quarters etc etc. That he had then agreed than either on his demise or at the end of thirty years, the whole lot would be handed back to the small farmer who had previously owned the land. It turned out that the lease payment was sufficient to allow the farmer to become a major investor in the seedier side of Bali and he had built several large villa’s that were let out to more westerners. In the end, the western punter had up and divorced his wife who immediately claimed half his everything, including the Bali house, which could not be sold and which, it looked like, was going to have to revert to previous owner (Balinese farmer) who was rubbing his hands together at his luck.

Balinese culture is all about village, group and temple. The population are frequently called to the local village temple for various rituals that are designed to bind them to the land and the people. They are very attentive to their temple obligations and nothing gets in the way of it. On some occasions all of the Balinese are summoned to the local volcano and there they make collective offerings to quiet the spirits of the volcano and appease negativities. Quite impressive.

I admit it, I had a massage. The massage place was called the Yellow Banana and yes, I was offered services that are not usually on offer in Australia. I elected to have a body scrub (they used some sort of setting mix that had to be scraped off leaving my skin, so the masseur said, looking baby like, followed by a shower (the masseur offered to join me to make sure that I cleansed correctly – I refused) and then a one hour massage, all fine, lots of oil, lots of rubbing and all above board. I have to say that the massage was not up to the usual standards of my Australian Thai masseur, but not a complete loss.

The next day was all about waiting, out of the villa by 1 pm and the flight was scheduled to leave at 10.40 pm (read 1.40 pm Australia time) I had nine hours to kill, not a easy thing in a place which in the end I was not keen on and no connections., It struck me that the Balinese got it wrong with this one, bearing in mind that the great majority of customers in Bali are Australian, they might have thought to have altered the flight schedules.

~ by peterwatson on December 14, 2012.

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