A Travellerspoint blog

A Long Hot Sweaty One (oo-er!)

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With Helen finally having at least limited success with the Australian consulate, I finally found time to reach out in search of a train ticket. Helen had been called by a German guy for whom she acted as an agent in Jayapura, inviting her to attend a tourism conference in Bali in a couple of days. That was my cue to justify my escape then, I was fortunate in that Jakarta's rail terminuses are mercifully pretty central so it wasnt too long before I found the incongruous Pasar Senen station. Directed into an advanced booking office, it was an unexpected bonus to leave the queues behind and find a quiet haven where an amiable official helped me fill out the Bahasa booking form, and soon I had the very ticket I wanted with commensurate ease. None of the Sumatra bullshit here. I had sacrificed valuable time in order to be with Helen, and the overnight trundle to Yogyakarta was a relatively giant leap to take me to central Java in search of renewed progress, focus and determination. With only 10 days now left on my visa I also knew now that I would struggle to do Java justice before having to jet off to Kalimantan and egress into Malaysia. I resolved that whatever misgivings I might have had, and however much I might later feel a modicum of regret, my impromptu week long blowout in Jakarta had still served as a panacea for the hardships and frustrations endured in recent weeks. Almost 10 months on the road, part of the learning process had been that I could be too hard on myself, and being with Helen had just been part of that acceptance. I had needed her and she was worth it.

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The National History Museum

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For the sake of facility this area of the diary has been condensed into a more succinct form since due to the vagiaries of perplexing museum opening hours and confusing signing amongst other distractions, both the National Museum and the National History Museum required 2 stabs each over the course of a few days order to satisfy my wonder. The National History Museum was actually housed in an underground recess underneath the National Monument, a stark white marble obelisk centreing Jakarta's main square Lapangan Merdeka, in reality more of a personal indulgence invoked to commemorate the rule of dictator Suharto.

The museum was simply a long procession of puppet illustrated dioramas which related important incidents in the evolution of present day Indonesia, starting with the first notable local power block. The Sriwijaya Empire originating from southern Sumatra endured from the 8th to 13th centuries, exploiting an important crossroads on the India-China trade route to grow in stature. Its rulers were known as the Syailendra dynasty, whose fleet bore outrageously tall bow sprits with spear like projections. Under King Samaratungga they founded the Borobudur temple complex in central Java, which was built as a reflection of the universe and adorned with scenes from the life of Buddha. In 1292 the Jawi Temple was also built at Pandakan, East Java by the last king of the Hindu-Indonesian Kingdom of Singasari, combining Buddhism with Shivaism. Gaja Mada, a prince of the Majapahit Empire is credited as being the first ruler to instigate the concept of Indonesian unity, a quest sworn by him as the Pledge of Palapa in 1331. He vowed not to eat Palapa (rice with accompaniments) until this goal was realised. The Majapahit fleet was strengthened in this vain to resist the growing preponderance of Chinese intrusion evident around this time, though a Chinese envoy subsequently arrived to recognise local sovereignty in deference to their power. At this time the Pesantrens (muslim boarding schools) became important in sealing this unity and disseminated Islam at the same time.

In 1522 the Portugese first arrived at Sunda Kelapa (Jakarta) and established a fort, the farthest in a long chain which they had created in order to make waystations for the spice trade. This action was resisted by the Sultan of Demak and after a long seige the Portugese fleet in an effort to resupply it was finally defeated in 1527. Sunda Kelapa was subsequently renamed Jayakarta (City of Victory) from whence the name Jakarta would eventually evolve centuries later. Unity was also encouraged since the 15th century by the trading exploits of the seafaring Buginese and Makkassarese of southern Sulawesi, their ships were typically square rigged with upcurled bows and what resembled a longhouse lined along the deck.

With no mention of the Dutch arrival following their comprehensive defeat of the Portugese in 1641, the Makkassar War of 1654-1668 related how the Dutch VOC resisted Makkassar's opening to international free trade, with the Dutch fighting to maintain their monopoly. Based on the Treaty of London of 1814 the Dutch then sought to secure absolute sovereignty over the archipeligo which was resisted with the capturing of a Dutch fort in the Moluccas in 1817. The most prominent liberation war however was the 1825-1830 central Java conflict, headed by enduring national hero Diponegoro. In testimony to its scale, the Dutch lost 15,000 men and built many forts during this era, eventually prevailing with Diponegoro's capture. Dutch expansionism in Sumatra was similarly opposed under rebel leader Imam Bonjol, who was also captured in 1837 after a 16 year campaign. Dutch meddling in Balinese court affairs then provoked the Battle of Jagaraga 1848-49. Dutch interest then pervaded Kalimantan, with a resistance movement operating 1859-1905 and Aceh's eternal independent streak provoked clashes with the Dutch 1873-1904, again in a bid to secure their monopoly by preventing Aceh's external trade. The Dutch commander General Major Kohler became one casualty, interestingly I had seen his memorial plaque at the Kerkhof cemetery in Banda Aceh. Dutch invasion of the Batak country was simultaneously opposed 1877-1907.

In order to provide for European markets and subsidise their own repression, the people of Java were forced onto plantations and the resulting neglect of their smallholdings created famine 1830-1870. The diorama depicted here was particularly vociferous in demonstrating local contempt, slaves tied to a pole were whipped with the rebuke that the Dutch became wealthy upon such dealings. The church became important in increasing educational opportunities, and a new intelligentsia led to the National Revival of nationalistic sentiment under the Budi Utomo organistaion in 1908. In 1912 the Muhammadiyah organisation was similarly founded to disseminate nationalist movement through Islam. Then in 1922 Indonesian students in the Netherlands became politically active and demanded independence in 1922, a national educational institute was also set up at Yogyakarta this year in opposition to the imposed Dutch curriculum. Students of the National Medical College, birthplace of Budi Utomo subsequently became the focus for the independence movement. Rebelions at Banten, West Java spread from 1926-27 which resulted in thousands of arrest and exile to Irian Jaya. The spirit of national unity brought together youth movements to a congress, pledging "One Country, One Nation and One Language-Indonesia". Upon the Dutch surrender to the Japanese in March 1942, people dubbed "Romusha" were employed as forced labour, resulting in thousands of deaths. Surprisingly, perhaps due to a vague new atmosphere of colonial unshackling, a volunteer local army called PETA was formed enthusiastically under Japanese tutelage in 1943, there was at least one incident of mutiny however. Following the Japanese surrender, nationalists seized the oportunity under the resulting power vaccuum to declare independence on 17th august 1945. Soekarno and Hatta were sworn into the new presidency and a new constitution promptly ratified. Allied insistence that the locals hand over captured Japanese arms resulted in the Battle of Surabaya 10th November 1945, whereupon thousands were killed, perhaps since the locals were already aware that the Allies had the agenda of re-establishing Dutch colonial rule which resulted in a nationwide guerrila campaign 1945-49. With the fall of the new independent government's seat at Yogyakarta in 1948 during the Dutch "Agresi dua" (Second Aggression), the leadership was arrested whereupon General Sudirman, commander of the free Indonesian forces asserted control from a new seat established at Bukitinggi, Sumatra. The Dutch were finaly forced to accede under UN supervision , recognising rather compromisingly Indonesia's sovereignty over a federation or United States OF Indonesia. In 1950 the states promptly declared untification as the republic of indonesia. Indonesia joined the Un and hosted the 1955 Asia-Africa Conference. The first general electio took place the same year. It was arevelation to me that the Dutch had retained Irian jaya until 1963, when finaly it too was acceded to indonesia on the promise of a local referendum. It took place in 1969 but rest assured had to have been rigged against ocal wishes for autonomy. There was a coup in 1965 commonly reported as a Communist uprising, but was most certainly opportunism by generla Suharto who took control under a military government, taking the opportunity of simultaneoulsy crushing opposition from communist and military opponents. demonstartions ere suppressed and the cabinet was disolved. With Portugese capitulation in East Timor, whatever the museum tried to tell me , Indonesian forces moved in and seized it amidst widespread atrocities, formalising its integration prportedly reluctantly in 1976.

With Helen in tow this time I managed to piece together a few more segments of Indonesia's colonial jigsaw puzzle, before heading out the short sweaty distance for the old colonial cemetery. It was in the passing that we approached the Istana Presiden (Presidential Palace), and though it was invisible behind thick foliage save an uninspiring squarish corner gable, we promptly got a bonus as the big yin's motorcade blared past us with President Yodhoyono clearly visible in his limo. The cemetery was presented as a museum which was a bit of a joke, save for a few habitual rusty cannon and a lone deer to keep us company it was merely a facade of inscribed stone slabs which had been elevated to form an entrance portal into the graveyard. They were by far and away Dutch of course, few sadly rendering more insight than the born Amsterdam, died Batavia variety, though a few errant wanderers had also left their regrettable impression. One mourned a Scotsman (there's one everywhere sure enough), a John Patrick Sturrock who "rendered 15 years service to the C.N. Bank, born at Broughty Ferry", he succumbed at the ripe old age of 36. There were also a couple of ships engineers out of Liverpool, and strangely a boy inexplicably from New York who had lived to only just see his 17th birthday. Another Scotsman John Leyden, born Teviotdale, died "2 days after the fall of Cornelis". I could only surmise that that was Fort Cornwallis on Penang, but didnt understand the link if that was the case. Maybe that was another story still waiting to be told. Top discovery however was unexpectedly none other than the wife of Sir Stamford Raffles of Singapore, a prominent mounted plain sarcophagus. Unfortunately like so many others, the inscription was now barely legible.

Helen and I dodged more ridiculous traffic on the way back home, taking a different route so that I might treat her to a Starbucks I had chanced upon the other day. I felt bad trailing her about in the heat, especially with her fashion victim sandals hurting her, but then she said she was just happy spending time with me and I had to believe her. I felt the same way.

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The National Museum Of Indonesia

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Excellent cannons inside and out were the finest I have seen, preserved in perfect condition with many varied motifs now legible, most interesting of which was the intermingled letters of the VOC below a capital A of unknown significance. Others made locally after the introduction of that technology in the 17th century were inscribed with an indefinable language, perhaps Thai, and others had been forged to resemble dragons. Of particular note here was the saddle and spear reputedly used by national hero Pangeran Diponegoro in his most famous of all wars against the Dutch 1825-30. In opposition stood a portrait and bust of a certain Conrad Theodor van Deventer 1857-1915, some colonial bigwig no doubt, but no explanation was rendered as to his importance.

From that small historical section I entered an ethnogeographical section boasting tremendous maps of the archipeligo, some relating the fantastic ethnic diversity to be found in this country. Complimenting it were portraits of people deemed to represent typical regional features in traditional dress. Sumatra was revealed like I had never known it, with the Batak people having 6 subgroups for example, yet the massive expanse of homogenous Maning Kabau culture surprisingly covered almost a third of the island. Melayu culture reserved the whole of the East coast. Java was ethnically split into 3, with the Sundanese populating the West where I was now, true Javanese inhabited the centre, then the Madurese in the East. Most striking was the diversity of the Eastern provinces however. I had fully expected it in Irian Jaya in line with the many remote isolated tribes of Papua New Guinea, but even more so was the intricate patchwork of different linguistic regions in Sulawesi. A third map detailed population density, revealing Java's sizeable average to be remarkably variable, the Eastern third was surprisingly sparse with less than 100 people per square kilometre. In the remainder of the island that averaged about 800, peaking predictably in Jakarta to a whopping 14,000. A massive relief map then related Indonesia's topography superbly, the long continuous curve of the "Crescent of Fire" was excellent in helping me realise my past escapades in greater succinctity. The very rugged mountains of Sumatra contrasted with the many distinct volcanic cones of Java, and Lombok for example appeared to be just a single massive cone. North and East of the Sumatran range the island was like a billiard table by comparison, and it looked like it too I recalled with its carpet of rice fields. Then I was blown away all over again with a gigantic relief map of Java longer than a bus, which showed its fantastic volcanic wonders with much more perceptible clarity. Gunung Bromo was revealed for what it was, a very wide caldera in which a city could have been swallowed, other cones stretched almost vertically to the sky in unlikely peaks like teets on a pigs belly. An unnamed peak in north eastern West Java near the city of Cirebon was amazing in its perfect abrupt symmetry, and in the east Gunung Semeral was similar. Most spectacular though appeared to be the Gunung Merapi range in the far East, even the massive conurbation of Jakarta was nothing on this scale.

From here I just let the rest of the museum wash over me since it was quickly clear that I could spend days trying to deduce every last possible lesson from its massive superb collection. Particularly unusual points of interest which stuck out though were a hobby horse resembling the ones used in the paganism of The Whickerman, used in central Java in a trance inducing dance ceremony. Next to it were many "Debus", implements with lethal spikes of baffling dimensions used for demonstrating ones invulnerability. Originating from the Banten region, mystics would enter a trance then variously stab and pierce themselves as they do in parts of India, purportedly without showing blood or pain. The mysticism continued in Javanese culture in learning that there had arisen a rice goddess named Dewi Sri. In the houses of village headmen, a bedroom dedicated to her named a Pasren was maintained for blessings and purification of harvested crops.

Then there was a massive Chinese dragon dancing costume originating form Bali, but the extravaganza of very colourful and exotic Balinese culture was too much to absorb, even terracotta roof tiles from there were tremendously worked objects of art. Totems from Sulawesi were unusual in being especially tall and slender, consisting of human effigies standing on each others shoulders with a difficult to describe phallic cum spear like projection thrusting out from its height at an angle. A generous collection of Hindu and Buddhist bronzes taught me that Hinduism arrived in Indonesia some 2000 years ago, and also in bronze were Kentongan, hollow cylindrical drums used for communication between villages, such as to warn of attack. Giant very ornately scribed kettle drums were another wonder.

Then came the anthropological standard displays of skulls, and it was very pleasing to see Darwinian theory finding its place here where other Islamic countries might omit it. Java Man also found his place here of course, it was explained that the Solo River valley on Java had revealed some of the worlds richest hominid fossil finds, man having arrived there over 1 million years ago. The lower sea levels of that time meant that there was a land bridge all the way from Europe to Bali, with cooler climes making this part of the world a vast savannah. Java Man AKA Homo Erectus was discovered for the first time here by a young Dutch doctor Eugene Dubois who had arrived here in direct response to Darwin's theories, finding 2 skulls at a spot known as Wajak near Tulungagung, East Java in 1889. This was the hoped for "missing link" to the earliest fossil finds here, more robust specimens dating back as far as 1.7 million years.

The contemporary Indonesian people originate from 2 main races, the Mongoloid of the Asian mainland and in the East the Australomelanesoid. From around 4000BC the Mongoloids began to dominate throughout the Nusantara archipeligo. Separated in islands, many distinct ethnic groups developed diverse cultures which have later become more heterogeneous through migration and trade links developing, thus the rich tapestry of the very diverse people of Indonesia. Again I came across a map of the land bridge which had once connected Sumatra, Java, Borneo and Nusa Tengara just short of Timor to the Asian mainland, ending with the recession of the last ice age and rising of sea levels with the start of the Holocene era 11,000 years ago. It was also incidentally explained that a similar contiguity had once connected Papua to Australia and Tasmania, what was known as the Sahul Plateau. Similarl to early man, faunal migration had descended from Southern China, bringing gibbons, orang utans and other primates amongst many other species to the archipeligo, and the presence of marsupials for example in the Eastern islands showed similar Australian influence too. The boundary of these spheres of influence were subsequently investigated in the 19th century and demarcated with a boundary known as the Wallis Line after its discoverer. Though I already knew that much, unfortunately it was no further explained here than that, save that Sulawesi is interesting in now being considered a transient zone with species related to those of both continents.

THE LIANG BUA CAVE SITE

Located in Teras village, Kampung Teras, Manggarai Regency, Flores Island. Digs since 1953 have revealed neolithic pieces, seashells, bronze axes, iron and bone tools as well as human and faunal skeletons. In 2003 this is where fossil remains of the dwarfish Homo Floresiensis were famously discovered, since dubbed variously as Flores Man or "The Hobbit". It is now tentatively being considered as another missing link in the human evolutionary chain, since the skulls retrieved indicate commonality with both Homo Erectus and modern man. The youngest Erectus finds date to 200,000-100,000 years ago but then a gap intercedes to the earliest Homo Sapien finds of 20,000BC, found on Borneo. Homo Floresiensis from the 7 skulls so far found has been estimated to date back to between 18-30,000 years ago, so the story board said, but that left me wondering about the claim of mutual derivation. As has been postulated, it would seem to me more likely to be a unique separate lineage if that timescale is correct. Adjacent, the best ever Homo Erectus finds discovered were on display, most importantly a complete femur indicating an upright stature as long ago as 500,000BC.

Moving onto inscribed stones, an excellent megalith from Kalimantan bearing Pallawa script is deemed to date back as far as the 5th century. Later examples tend towards both Pallawa and old Malay script together, later changing to old Javanese in Kawi script. Sanskrit pervades throughout this era. An inscribed tombstone in Arabic here also revealed the oldest indication of Islam in Indonesia, found in East Java and dated to the 11th century. Local modifications of Arabic script subsequently created "Pegon", with Javanese pronounciation, and "Jawi" was a Malay influenced equivelant. Chinese influence is reckoned to have started around the 5th century up to a peak in the 14th, but the difficulty of Chinese characters meant that it did not notably pervade. The Javanese, Balinese and Bataks all developed their own calendars, mainly used to determine auspicious and unfavourable days, just as I had already learned in Danau Toba. In the absence of contemporary charts local knowledge of ancient navigation is unfathomable, but it is known that Alfonso da Albequerque did send a map in Javanese script home to Portugal in the early 16th century, alas the ship carrying it was lost en route. Islamisation was encouraged from Aceh (I later learned that Aceh is Chinese for Arab), what had been the hitherto unheard of Kingdom of Sumatra Pasai, after the Majapahits disintegrated into smaller local Islamic states at the end of the 15th century. Currency was also introduced by them from the end of the 13th century, tellingly named the Derham (Dirham). In juxtaposition, Hindu-Buddhist culture also prevailed in the country between the 4th to 15th centuries.

The history then jumped to the brief and similarly unforetold British administration under Raffles (1811-15), who with a new legal policy abolished forced labour and restrictions on crop selection imposed by the Dutch, they secured more power however by repealling the right of local regents to raise taxes, also appropriating all land to the state, with farmers becoming tenants liable for rent. Upon Dutch supercession they continued this policy until 1830, whereupon plantations were reinvoked in order to curb massive Dutch domestic debt, a policy known as the Cultivation System. Though normally I might have resisted the treasure house containing centuries of amassed gold, a hunt for Helen who had accompanied me that day revealed an interesting insight into colonial strategy. Storyboards related how the Dutch campaign of dominance had been executed piecemeal, appropriating these regency treasures as and when they found or created an excuse for recourse in particular parts of the archipeligo. One campaign ended with the abolition of the Banjai Sultanate of Kalimantan in 1860 for example, and then the Mataram Kingdom of Lombok was similarly usurped by a military expedition in 1894. As well as moves to take Aceh in 1901 and again in 1904, the evolution of steam power allowed further forays from Java with an eye to securing the farthestmost islands, expanding eastwards from a regional hub established at Makassar. And though Bali had hitherto been investigated but deemed unprofitable, it was attacked in 1908 in order to seal the Dutch monopoly on the opium trade.

I bought myself a yellow T-shirt on the way back home to replace my similar favourite one that day, which had by now succumbed to permanent grime and disfiguration due to walking with my bag and one cold laundry too many. Helen had been tied up that day with her visa pushing and with a full on day of note taking it wasnt until dark that I hooked up with her for what transpired to be another quiet night of just her and me.

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Jakarta

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Helen was tied up today trying to push her problematic visa application, which rather suited me as a chance to escape the girly throes and re-establish some focus on the job in hand. It was a crushing frustration to realise it Monday and all the museums closed then, but I stuck with the plan in any case of hitting the Kota district of the city. This was old Batavia, the historic heart of colonial Jakarta and the port from which the Dutch East India Company the VOC had ruled and exploited the archipeligo for centuries. There were architectural attractions here aplenty, with my first foray from the convenient Kota urban rail station being the Gereja Sion (Sion Church), also known as the Portugese Church. Its simple angular lines and pristine condition masked its vintage, it was built in 1695 to serve the so called "Black Portugese", captives snatched from Dutch raids throughout the Portugese Asian outposts and fleet, who were transported here and committed to slavery. There was no remaining trace of the reputedly once sizeable graveyard here, and unfortunately the church mirrored the museums in its closure.

It was a short jaunt back the way dodging what proved to be persistently atrocious traffic to find a cobbled square, what had once been the functional heart of Batavian colonial rule. To the south lay the immaculately whitewashed and bell towered Jakarta History Museum, a fantastic perfect remnant in defiance of its 1627 pedigree, which had originally served as the Town Hall, law courts and main dungeons. The 19th century Fine Arts Museum off to one side, once the Palace of Justice, was a contrasting typically grand but squat Roman columned edifice, and the former Museum of Old Batavia, now a Puppet Museum, was more akin to true Dutch aesthetics as a tall square pointy gabled house. From here a rare cobbled promenade revealed more Dutch style buildings of a more dilapidated ilk, a theme continued along a canalside plod which had once been a Little Amsterdam of rich residences, boasting variously high corner domes and red tiled roofs. Though now defunct of its purpose, the 17th century Chicken Market Bridge still stood as it had done for centuries, a wooden chain elevated drawbridge full of Olde Worlde character which had once fed traffic to the port area. I dodged more trucks, mopeds and crummy looking foodstalls across its modern replacement in that direction then, first spying a tall slender watchtower resembling a tower house which the Dutch had built facing the port entrance in order to direct shipping. The habitual plethora of corroded cannon and a gigantic aged anchor stood guard, alas it was closed as ever. In further inquisitive forays I first discovered a very long colonial looking warehouse, all wooden shutters and red tiles, but its VOC titling and promise of the old maritime area transpired to be a tourist rip off extravaganza undergoing a restoration which depreciated it of any historical interest it may once have held.

Then I hit upon a grungy market cum slum area of people living very rustic lives in wooden shacks decorated with washing lines and pathetic front room grocery stalls. I found the port entrance eventually though, a spot known as Sunda Kelapa and famed for its Pinisi (Schooners). A long awaited dream, I was very surprised to find not a beautified boardwalk of preserved colonial era sailing ships as I had long surmised but a full on working wharf of contemporary wooden craft, variously loading laboriously by hand in the scathing heat an assortment of cargo such as bags of cement, lengths of timber, and all manner of plastic containers and cardboard boxes. Originating from Makassar, Sulawesi, these craft though notably larger reminded me of Arab dhows with their strong high bows and up-tapered sterns, it gleaned an unexpected insight into the relatively rudimentary and precarious manner in which Indonesia disseminated its wealth. They were the same design the ancient Buginese maritime empire had used centuries earlier. I knew that their was an undercurrent of discontent at Javanese political and economic dominance within Indonesia, but perhaps this was an alternative indicator as to why the outer lying islands lagged behind the national hub, and why Indonesia in general struggled to keep up with its more contiguous northerly neighbours. The "Hello misters" followed me round to a neighbouring wharf of mainly more orthodox shipping, and though there were modern conventions revealed in fork lift trucks and cranes, vehicles destined for some distant isle loaded open to the elements high above the gunwales on one rust bucket still served to confirm a rudimentary backwardness in need of investment.

In need of a well earned beer, it was only left for me to retrace the cobbled main square where the Cafe Batavia had succeeded in retaining a colonial era vibe of pillar mounted lanterns and ragtime jazz, the prices unfortunately were definitely modern 21st century however. Kota had been a surprisingly grungy spot in spite of its reputation, with bare arsed kids, a trully skanky fish market devoid of a catch and rubbish variously scattered across wasteland next to carpets of sun drying shrimps, awash in open cesspools or heaped in piles of stinking rot too putrid to walk past. I sensed another point of note in that though, perhaps indicative as to what happens when an especially unsuitable colonial master rules by decree, then is finally pushed out amidst disarray to leave a people ill- prepared to take on the challenges of self rule. Considering they were ethnically similar, time and again it surprised me that though Indonesia had gone independent before Malaysia, her northerly neighbour was streets ahead in cleaning up the streets for example. That said, modern Jakarta might have been a massive swathe of dubious urban planning with horrendous noise and air pollution, but bus lanes serving ultra modern coaches and touches such as ornate fountains and decorative gardens still managed to extricate it from my poor expectations to a passable showcase of generally impressive ilk. And the unexpectedly chilled out temperament of Jalan Jaksa was a winner.

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Serang to Jakarta

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With nothing to detain me in Serang, a city which surprised me in its enormity considering I'd never even heard of it until its recent appearance on the radar screen, it was only a token snap of an unusual statue of a horseman, giant eagle and traditionally garbed guardians which detained me in catching a Bemo out to the bus terminal. My enduring tiredness from the previous day's marathon didnt afford me much patience to smile my way through especially inane and persistent pestering from the manic crew, and not for the first time I couldnt help feeling a little short changed in them exacting a little over the odds for dropping me short at a roadside bus stand devoid of choice. Fortunately the one bus there was headed for Jakarta sure enough, a rare large good quality bus with uniquely even the prices written on the windscreen. That didnt stop the habitual teenage ne'erdowell from getting balshy with me when I proferred the prescribed fare though, I stood my ground and deliciously did myself proud in exacting the accomplished phrase of "Berdeka di sini sepuluh ribuh" (It says there 10,000). My fatigue and short fuse was aided by the contemplation of the notoriously large and chaotic city now imminent and so in the land of salutations the boy turned round to get a middle finger and a token expletive in his back for his trouble. A fellow incumbent confirmed my stand and so ground rules seemingly set, we were soon off down a fast if strange new concept for Indonesia, a dual carriageway with tollbooths and crash barriers. The eternal rice fields were apparent as ever, yet it was perceptibly drier here and the sun shelters dotted around were larger house sized open walled thatched affairs. Another resembled a giant Toblerone with no vertical walls to give it elevation. The telltale intense traffic was soon joined by a conurbation of random developments and sporadic skyscrapers, and it was as though my onboard non-friend tried to up the pressure even more with a denigratory derision of my destination, as if I were somehow headed the wrong way. They were going to Kerembalis terminal as I knew very well, as if I expected them to take me anywhere else.

Jumped on as ever by eager Ojek drivers, I subdued them initially with my belated first feed of the day, where a local boy obligingly eased the sense of disorientation in managing to explain well enough how to reach my tricky final goal still some 15Ks hence. The number 64 bus to take me to Jalan Diponegoro was never coming though, and it was only after a long hot frustrating wait constantly shunning more Ojek sharks that upon eventually concocting a plan B in desperation, the bus immediately usurped it by showing up. The next challenge was to figure out where in this endless hotchpotch tapestry I had to get off the rattly smoke splutterer, and devoid of notable landmarks I just had to resort to the ever inadequate maps of the guideboook and sporadic sign spotting. Thankfully the befitting "Welcome Monument" eventually appeared as a vaguely discernible interpretation of its name, and so I knew to hop off shortly for the remaining 2K trudge, again mercifully through an unexpectedly quiet leafy enclave of embassies. Amazingly, the residency of the British High Commissioner was the first building I came across in all Jakarta.

It was en route that I pinpointed what would later prove to be the handy Gondangdia rail halt, and a short life threatening road crossing later there I was, Jalan Jaksa. Every capital city had its prescribed travellers ghetto, and so it was with mixed trepidation and anticipation that I first encountered Jakarta's promise of facility, vice and bullshit. Jaksa was cool. Whilst Istanbul's Sultanahmet district had become a tad too up market and Khao San Road in Bangkok had been unforgettably overwhelming and partisan, Jalan Jaksa proved to be just a normal side street upon first impression, mustering a redeeming melange of useful travellers services and unglorified local trappings. The cafes were relaxed, the net cafes reassuringly unobtrusive, the touts benign and the few street stalls endearingly grungy, all camouflaged amongst a down at heels neighbourhood of ordinary houses and pavement businesses. Top choice of the guidebook was the Bloem Steen Hostel, materialising surprisingly uninspiring, available and empty of white faces, and so safely ensconced a Bintang beer seemed more alluring than a much needed Mandi. Randomly hitting upon the nearby "Memories" cafe just around the corner, it was an acceptably unhurried low key mix of locals and the odd wanderer, and the habitually ensuing inquisition seemed apparently unloaded and genuine compared to what I might have expected. At least so it seemed. I didnt know it yet, but "Memories" was destined to impart me with many memories indeed.

It was only a belated realisation that I had hit upon Jaksa's focus, the only place which really kicked off at night and the only ostensible bar girl hangout, and though I didnt play that ever popular game I still managed to succumb to an altogether different encounter. Her name was Helen, a very contrasting beauty to the others and the most beautiful of them all. Though Indonesian, Helen was similarly a transient resident devoid of any such agenda, she was here in order to secure a visa application so that she might oversee a student exchange to Australia, and upon seeing me plugging away inexorably at my diary she enquired as to whether I was a journalist. I did myself a favour in answering in the affirmative since my literary quest had long seemed to feel just as much like that kind of work. However banally, I had also had a couple of articles printed in Oz and with aspirations of books to follow, I thought I should do myself justice. And so all was revealed. Another point in her favour, amongst many commendable traits Helen was a political activist who had married an Australian journalist, and in his absence due to an early death through cancer, I had to admit that I bore more than a passing resemblance to his photo. A civil servant of clear intelligence, her depths and charm worked that day to disarm me of my eternal healthy cynicism, still quietly determined not to succumb to South East Asia's potential pitfalls. Even Benz in Bangkok had been an inconsequential celibate encounter, and I had steadfastly stuck to my pledge of not playing the Asian girly game, though that might not always prove easy or on the surface even seem rational. She did not appear of that ilk however, and dubiously consoled by the knowledge that technically she wasnt even Asian but Melanesian, I still fought it on point of principle wary of untold dangers, only to finally give way to temptation in the end. Spurred on by her determination, 10 months of hardship without so much as a cuddle was long enough I finally resolved, and so I ended up in her arms that night, my own little chocolate pygmy girl. Ethnically distinct to any I had hitherto encountered, a genetic quirk had rendered her different to her people and even the rest of her family. Though from West Papua, the farthest Eastern reach of Indonesia on the island of New Guinea, she might have passed for Pakistani or East African, and upon letting her shock of deep red hair descend I somewhat mindblowingly saw that I was now going out with Tina Turner. Wow!

It was a complicatory factor which I had not expected or made contingency for. Hoping for a quick smash and grab raid of Jakarta's highlights given its bad reputation, I also knew from experience that that might not prove realistic. Big cities had to be fought through with a tendancy of soaking up time and money, and being distracted by Helen now ensured that. Time was pressing, with my visa expiry shortly pending and Java's considerable attractions still wholly undiscovered. Southern Sumatra had been arduous in the main though, and for once I afforded myself the indulgence, explaining that I still had to keep one eye on the job, Helen understood and respected me for it. One day (and night) passed into another, with ridiculously short museum opening hours and insufficient signing proving as much an obstacle as Helen, but however convolutedly I still managed to retain a certain discipline all the same and get the job done. There were ups and downs as ever.

In consolation, the indulgnce of a full on swanky nightclub was an experience I would not have attained, tempered therein by the loss of one of my diarys and with it a weeks worth of hard earned insight. That one hurt, but I consoled myself it had not been all three of them and therefore a months worth, that would have been devastating. Helen betrayed more endearing qualities in jealousy and insecurity, with numerous competitors making their amorous intentions plain to me. I resisted Roma the stereotypical pick up chick for example and more genuine Ivi who yearned for what Helen had but couldnt find. She was the woman every man wanted to be with, even to the point that I risked violence from one particularly persistent admirer too captivated to reel in his dick and afford us respect, but Helen was a strong principled woman who steadfastly stood by me. She hadnt been with a man in 2 years she explained since her Ukrainian fiancee with whom she had had a third child had died piloting a cargo plane in Iraq, resisting all advances throughout her previous fortnight in Jakarta, only to be raptured by me. I may have only been fulfilling the fantasy of her dead husband, but certainly she wanted me for a new one, I had to feel priviliged all the same. Alarm bells ringing, the proposition of offspring and marriage came quickly.

Posted by andyhay 00:00 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

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