Sunday, September 22, 2013

Quick update

Sunset beyond the temples at Prambanan
Modern sculpture near the Javanese Sultan's
Palace and the Dutch era Post Office Building.
World coexist.
Today I move from Yogyakarta (Java) to West Kalimantan. It requires taxi, bus, taxi, airplane, airplane and finally car. Knowing that calling life unpredictable in Indonesia is being overly generous, I took at 6 am bus, so that, about 4 hours later, I arrive 3 hours early for my flight. Fortunately, the airport lounges are lovely and I am making use of the time by updating about the first month in Indonesia.

The most important thing to note is that it feels like I have been here for 3 days. It has flown by. It has flown partially because I have been having a blast with some great people, and partly because each errand that I run takes days longer than expected.

Yogyakarta is a fascinating place. It is very international, but also very homey and friendly. While waiting for a computer at an internet cafe, a young Indonesian woman introduced herself. We had a nice chat about her

life (just graduated, looking for a job in computer programming, fluent in self-taught German and English and no interest in going to the States ever). While walking between two touristy areas of town, a man pulled us aside to warn us that we should not buy batik from the tourist vendors on Malioboro St. (a tourist mecca) because they are not real batiks. I am accustomed to a warning like this being closely followed by an offer to drive me to his "friend's" shop to check out "almost free" goods... but this was not a hawker, he was just a nice guy who was excited to meet 2 foreigners with somewhat passable bahasa Indonesia.

In the same area of town, on a Sunday afternoon we were surprise when a bunch of guys in military uniforms (see pic below) marched noisily down the street accompanied by a chorus of mopeds racing their engines in time with the marching. The stopped at an intersection... and... of course... broke out into a choreographed dance routine. Grown men. Uniforms. Dancing to... what was it? Robin Thicke? And they seemed pretty happy about it too.

Kids with chickens
When I was not studying, at the gym or in search of food, I spent a lot of time walking around the narrow "gangs" (alleys) and being surprised at most turns. One day I came upon a bunch of children playing with live chicks who were dyed vivid colors. I wanted to take a picture of the chickens (these would really brighten up the micro-farming trend in the U.S.), but the kids wanted me to take there picture too, so you get to see both.
Chickens, ready for Easter (in the world's most populous
 Muslim nation)
And then there were the outings with friends. In my first week, we discovered that 3 of us have October birthdays. We are each a decade apart. Carin will turn 20, Ash will be 30 and I will be 40. When there was general agreement that I do not look or act 40, I knew that these were friends for life and we began to plan a way to celebrate our birthdays before I left. 
Wuv... Is what keeps us together
when hitchhiking on an intercity bus.
I think we did it fairly well.... Part 1 of Operation Birthday celebration was attending the Ramayana Ballet at Prambanan. The ballet is more of a traditional Indonesian dance performance that tells part of the Ramayana, the Hindu epic. It is performed at night with the Hindu temples of Prambanan, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as the background. Carin and I headed out early to see the temples before the performance. The entire experience was awe-inspiring. One of the highlights of the evening was being stranded about 30 minutes outside of town unable to get a cab to come pick us up. Eventually, we were able to hop a "direct" intercity bus that brought us close enough to home that the promise of a hefty tip secured a cab for the rest of the way. Terrifying, but fun when you have a group of friends including several who are fluent in Indonesian!

The ballet with the temples in the background
We decided to chow down at a fancy breakfast buffet at a nearby hotel. The highlights of the buffet were real lattes (not from a packet), real cheese (the cheese they sell here is designed to not melt in the tropical heat) and a juice bar that would make any kind of juice you wanted. After lunch, Ash led us in an impromptu jam session on the gamelan, which seemed to entertain the hotel staff immensely.
Jamming on the gamelan.
The final part of the celebration was brought to us by Elizabeth. She found a bakery, got us a cake, and, when she was unable to sneak the cake into the house past us, recruited the owner of the neighboring warung to hide the cake in her refrigerator.  Her valiant effort was a bit tweaked when the warung owner came over to ask us when we wanted to cake, but Carin and I remained clueless, so it was a lovely surprise. I don't have any pictures of the cake yet, but I will post a picture for Elizabeth...

Air Soda from Yogya in the Semarang airport lounge
So, off I go to the field portion of my trip. The next 2.5 months I will be in a rainy area of West Kalimantan volunteering with an organization that uses health services as an incentive for conservation. I don't really know what to expect, but if the last month has set any precedent. This is going to be AWESOME!

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