Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Javanese Culture in Jogja

Indonesia is big. It consists of more than 17,000 islands. Indonesia's population of over 252 million people live on 6000 of these islands making it the fourth most populous nation on Earth. There are hundreds of different ethnic groups scattered across the archipelago which is about 1000 wider from east to west than the continental U.S.

Yogyakarta, the city where I currently live, is a special kingdom within Java and continues to be governed by a royal sultanate. It is on the island of Java. I have recently had a chance to experience some Javanese cultural events.

The first was truly a special opportunity. The owner of the boarding house where a friend lives invited us to a Javanese traditional ceremony. The gist of the event is that a 7 month old baby is brought into a chicken cage where s/he gets to choose from indicators of potential futures that have been placed in there as well. For example, there might be money, books, a stethoscope or other toys that indicate desirable profession. When describing the ceremony, Javanese are quick to point out that the cage is new and that the baby is only in it for a little while.
Baby and his mom in a chicken cage

This festival was huge. They took up the entire street in front of the house and also had seating areas in several other places where people could enjoy a simulcast of the main events as an MC gave a running narrative. We were also entertained by live gamelan orchestra playing traditional Javanese music. And the food... 2 full buffets and individual stations of traditional Javanese foods. It was a thing to behold.
Gamelan players and singer at the party
Last weekend, I visited the Kraton, or palace of the Sultan of Yogyakarta. On the weekends, there are cultural performances at the royal residence. On Saturdays, they have traditional shadow puppet shows called wayang, and on Sunday, traditional Javanese dance.
Javanese dancer... LOTS of makeup

The royal residence is not ostentatious, but it is spacious and displays a lot of history, particularly of the previous sultan. And they show many of the items used in royal ceremonies, such as carriages, instruments, and yes, the royal chicken cage.
Royal birdcage
Following a turn around the kraton, we proceeded to Taman Sari, or the water palace. This was my first visit to the complex that used to be used as a recreational area for the royal family. Upon entering the water palace, you are surrounded by the smell of jasmine. The buildings are built of cool stone and offer many dark places to hide from the heat of the day.
Approaching one of the pools at Taman Sari

Example of the reliefs at Taman Sari
In addition to beautifully carved reliefs and pools, which are now quite green, the complex consists of a series of underground passageways and buildings. Many of the underground buildings are gone, but one of the most interesting, a 2-story, round structure at the center of which are Escher-like stairs, still exists. The passageways and the buildings have an ingenious construction that allows a remarkable amount of natural light to enter.
Passageway in the underground complex.

Escher-like stairs at the center of the bulding

Passage in the round building. The second story protrudes
above ground.
A really interesting community has sprung up around the water palace. Above the underground complex is Kampoeng Cyber (Cyber Neighborhood), a tidy neighborhood of narrow alleyways that have been decorated with painted walls, potted plants and stunning orchids. The neighborhood has extensive wi-fi connection as well as numerous galleries and stores selling locally produced items.

Wall in Kampoeng Cyber painted with motifs drawn from traditional Javanese
Orchids in a yard in Kampoeng Cyber

While at first Kampoeng Cyber appears to be a strong contrast to the historic and ceremonial surroundings of the Kraton and Taman Sari, I also see it as bringing Javanese culture into the future. Many of the galleries build on traditional art forms by adding modern elements. Javanese culture seems to highly value aesthetics and nature. Both of these are demonstrated in the new, vibrant community built on the foundation of a historic complex.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

1 month down... 12 to go!

I have been doing what I always warn my friends not to do. I have been letting perfect be the enemy of good and have not written blog posts in  a long time because I can't make them great. Well, I am going to throw this one up here and try to do a better job in the future. It is an overview of month #1 in Indo 2015. If anything catches your eye and you want more information, let me know.

I arrived in Jakarta after some flight adventures. Summary; several route changes, a night in Tokyo, lost baggage and about $500 in flight vouchers and cash from the airlines (cha-ching!).

How awesome is Tokyo? The hotel has a vitamin bar at the breakfast buffet

I thought I was going to have to stay in Jakarta for about a week to get my immigration stuff done... but it took less than 2 hours. Sort of. I still don't have the correct visa and permits, but that is another story. It turned out that I had to do the majority of my hop-jumping in Manado. I was able to shoe-horn in some meetings on Tuesday before I flew to Manado to start the Great Immigration Trials.

Manado is a city at the northern tip of Northern Sulawesi. It is 1000 miles closer to Davao in the Philippines than it is to Jakarta. This is to say, not a short jaunt.

I have an affiliation with Sam Ratulangi University in Manado. Fortunately, my friend and fellow Fulbright recipient, Jaimie, is already in Manado. She was amazing help in getting me in contact with the university's very-helpful International Office. She also shared some of her favorite pass times including watching beautiful sunsets over the ocean.

Manado sunset
I spent a great week in Manado. The immigration stuff was extremely stressful, but the work meetings and the non-work socialization made up for it. One of the highlights was a trip to the community of Tomohon to see a concert by the local university's extremely talented chorus. We also squeezed in a trip to a Buddhist Temple.

After Manado, I finally got to return to my base in Yogyakarta. I had left thinking I would be back in a month, but, in the end, it took 5 months. I was very happy to have a little stability, While I really loved the magical 4 months that I spent in the U.S., I felt like every day was a bit of  "Sleep well, I will mostly likely fly to the other side of the planet tomorrow."

Some of the statues at the temple in Tomohon.
Volcano in the background.
Yogyakarta, or Jogja, is home to my language school. My days are mainly spent going to language class, hitting the gym and then studying. I have had some fun weekend trips though. The first was a jaunt to some local beaches. Then I took a jaunt to the port city of Semarang two weekends ago. Last weekend, a friend invited me on a tour to local archaeological sites.
Very old cemetery

I have also been sucked into helping out with a St. Bernard who is pretty much neglected. My friend Jenny, a veterinarian from Australia, has a heart too big to let her walk by this poor caged animal, so she built a relationship with the family and got permission to start walking him. We were walking him each day, but it really didn't seem to help his situation much. He is so unaccustomed to walking, that he was soon quite lame. Since the family doesn't ever let him out, his cage is filthy whether we walk him or not. I am walking him less, but now I am focusing my efforts on getting him a new home where he is not in a cage 23.75 hours a day.

The effort to find the dog, Budda, a new home is also worth a note. Most of my language class consists of me chatting with my instructors in Indonesian. I already finished the grammar and now I need to practice, learn vocabulary and ask questions. This is accomplished by me rambling on about my days, the news, or Indonesian culture. Budda was one topic. After hearing about Budda, my teachers came together and have decided to help me find him a new home. They are spreading the word, asking friends, making suggestions and generally being the type of amazing human beings that I have come to consider typical of Indonesians. It is pretty amazing.

Next week I am supposed to go to Manado again to take another step in the immigration. We will see if this happens. It is sort of crazy. Imagine flying from Denver to Boston for a 15 minute meeting and then waiting there a week to pick up a document. Fortunately, I am sure that I can make good use of my time. There is always dissertation work to do!