We’re on Java, Indonesia’s most populated, and completely overwhelmed, island. (Having tested the transportation infrastructure in the endless mess that is Jakarta, as well as in Yogyakarta, I think we have now experienced in reality the sort of nightmare visions that keep nervous Chinese urban planners up at night.) But other than the transportation, our visit in Indonesia has been great.
Yesterday we got around the traffic by going above it, and took a quick flight from Jakarta to Yogyakarta, about halfway across the island. Yogyakarta claims to be the center of Javanese culture, which can perhaps be best described as a form of Islam layered on Buddhism layered on Hinduism, and is proudly still ruled by a sultan, although his powers don’t seem to extend much beyond living in the palace and owning the nearby shopping mall.
We spent a day and a half with Unggul, an English-speaking Javanese Renaissance-man-turned-guide who drove us to the once-hidden, now-famous jungle temples built by long-ago Hindu and Buddhist rulers. Between masterful tales of Javanese folklore, his boyhood in the jungle in Sumatra, and how he knows Obama (lived next door to his Indonesian step-grandfather), we stopped to sample wild cinnamon bark, durian and mangosteen. It was pretty great. We also passed through a Chinese settlement along the way, and the outward contrast with other overseas Chinese communities was stark: in forming this massive assortment of far-flung polities into an ungainly nation, Indonesia’s first couple post-colonial rulers made no room for Chinese identity, and along the rows of Chinese-built shophouses there was not a single hanzi to be found. Of course, comparisons with the Mainland are often complicated, and here we noted the prominence and ornateness of the ancestral graves (see the picture below). In much of the Chinese countryside, local officials discourage or prohibit such customs, since the graves use up valuable dirt space that could otherwise be used to generate more agricultural output. Here, though, the practice appears to continue.
Owen had a blast at the temples. His Chinese upbringing was apparent in his desire to grab onto every really old thing we came across. Since that’s what UNESCO sites in Asia are all about, and with just about every single day of Siddhartha Gautama’s 80-year-long life carved in ancient stone reliefs at Borobudur, he had a lot of fun.
We’re nearing the end. Jakarta again today, with stops in the old Chinese section, and then a late-night flight to Manila, our last stop before home. Travelling outside of China has been interesting and a lot more relaxing, but we miss having the ability to really communicate. Fortunately, that shouldn’t be too much of a problem in the Philippines.