Wednesday, April 1, 2009

I left my heart in Jogja


I first went to Jogja more than a decade ago.

At that point in time, there was no Air Asia flight that would take you directly out of KL into Jogja; only a tiring 12-hour train ride from Gambir station in Jakarta to Jogja - 15 if you want to drive. The train ride was not that painful; personally I found Indonesian trains more punctual than their counterpart in Malaysia. The conference hosted by Gadja Mada University invited an estemeed colleague of mine Dr Wadekar, an expert in heat transfer and by chance being the SE Asia technical person, I self invited myself as a chaperon.

By then, I thought Jogja was a wonderful place that I would love bringing the family again. To me then – and even now, having visited practically the whole of Indonesia, from Aceh in the Nothern Sumatra to Palembang in the South, Anyir in the west of Jakarta, and Cilacap on the East of Java, and up north to Balikpapan and Bontang in Kalimantan, I found two cities particularly interesting and extremely beautiful and worth a revisit.

Padang and Jogja.

Padang was basically a homecoming for me and the beautiful culture and the beautiful Maninjau. So I guess one can understand my enthusiasm.

Jogja, on the other hand, was all about the monuments - Borobudur, Prambanan and Kraton. Or at least that's what I saw more than a decade ago.

It took me another 10 years and Air Asia to come back.


It was a holiday like no other.

I mean, despite our slogan of Malaysia, Truly Asia, we can't compete with many others c ountries in as far as cultural experience is concerned.

And I was determined that we were going to enjoy our holiday, like no other holiday that we had taken before. I mean, I would normally drive, be at the attraction, looked at it in awe, and left.

Of course in between, we would have taken many pictures. An I-was-there picture. It is important to tell ourselves -if no one else - that we were there before, not much for the bragging right, but more importantly for the memories.

So this time around, I thought it was going to be different. We are going to take it leisurely and we were going to have a guide at each place to tell of the background of each attraction. We could look at them in awe knowingly, and I guess it made each attraction even more attractive.


I am glad I can speak Indonesian. I mean after traveling the length and breadth of Indonesia for the past 15 years, I could passed myself off as one of them, if it was going to save my life. In the worst case scenario I would tell them that I am from Sumatra. If they asked further I would say I am either from Medan or Riau, as my slang could be passed off as from these regions and I know a few suburbs of these towns well enough.

Only once I was caught by my own web of lies!

But still, when my driver (Pak Supir named Nimin) dropped me off at the Indonesian booth of Borobudur, I was apprehensive. I am not sure if Mak, with her baju kurung could be passed off as an Indonesian. And as I wanted to enjoy my holiday, I would not mind paying the higher ticket price for foreigner. After all, how much higher would they make it? Double the 15,000 rupiah the Indonesians would pay?

Later on we found out from our guide that it was a whopping US$12 per person for us to enter. I guess my 15 years of traveling the length and breadth of Indonesia has finally paid off!

Borobudur was built by Shailander dynasty in the 800s AD, so he told me. There were two dynasties then ruling Java, the other one being Sanjaya, and one was Hindu and the other Buddha.

How people in the 8th century in medieval Java have the technology to build such magnificent monument is something of a wonder to me. Afterall, all other Javanese or Nusantara kingdoms such as Majapahit, Sri Vijaya, or Melaka for that matter did not leave us much in term of stone structure. Much of the old istanas built of wood would have been eaten by time, and the environment, I guess.

And since I was a disciple of Dr Ali Shariati's teaching during my university days, what does it take to build such a magnificent monument? How many 'slaves' - if you must use the context of how the Pharoah built the pyramid, did it take to build it, and how many had died in the harsh tropical environment in the 8th century.

These are some of the points we pondered upon as we looked in awe at the Borobudur.

Ramayana comes alive

Growing up in Taiping, our house was always like a library. Bapak would buy all kind of Malay/Indonesian novels and of course religious books. Mak would make us save our pocket money and buy Cinderella. Of course my elder sis would buy Enid Blyton's and all kind of Mills & Boon, while I would go for Alfred Hitchcock's.

I was taken by the story when I was in primary school. The Malay version of Hikayat Seri Rama was edited by one Onn, and published by Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka. Actually I would think it was a Malaynised version of the epic Hindu scripture. In fact make that Islamic. I mean, when the Emperor Rahwana requested Allah for four kingdoms for him to rule, the person who granted his wishes was no other than the prophet Adam.

In Jogja, the story of Ramayana came alive for me.

(The irresistible Sita Dewi, queen for Seri Rama and the object of desire and obsession for Maharaja Rawana. She is so gracefully in this dance play.)

(Maharaja Rawana wooing Sita Dewi with her resisting all the way before he decides to kidnap her. Unfortunately it was raining, so the play was done in a hall and we were seated on the third row, so at times the heads of those tourists in front of us - and they are bigger than us, would interrupt our view and of course the camera. I didn't have the time to edit them yet.)

So with the love story of Seri Rama and Sita Dewi intertwined into this epic, it would make a compelling ready for this school boy deprived of television in the early 70s. With no visual outlet, the imagination would make it a more fantasy - make that a fantastic fantasy with the imagination running wild with each chapter.

The battle between Seri Rama and the sons of Rawana, Indrajit among others would easily put any modern tales or Hollywood blockbuster and epic to become B Grade movie. One can imagine Seri Rama with the help of Laksamana, and Hanuman battling the forces of evil. If I am not mistaken, indrajit has 1000 hands and heads and each time one cuts off his limbs, it would grow again.

(The riots of colour in this battle of evil versus good. Hanuman, the monkey king was there; so were Jentayu the bird who eventually lost all its limbs in the battle with Rawana, and fell down to earth. It was mesmerizing for us.)

As I have said, the story is set with the prophet Adam as the ultimate religious icon, and this makes it palatable to this 12 year old mind.

And this Sendratari is a must go for anyone visiting Jogja.

I do wish we could see the play in the open air theatre with the Prambanan temple as the backdrop, but this would only be held during "bulan purnama" and the next play was only scheduled in May.

To me, a decade ago, Jogja is all about Borobudur, Prambanan and Kraton, and all things monuments. This classical dance play changed it all in my perspective. Jogja is much more than her medieval ruins.

She is alive with her cultural heritage.

I am enjoying my ice-cream before it melts!

1 comment:

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