Sabtu, 10 Maret 2012

If you found this blog...

…I want you to know that it's a journal of my visit to Indonesia last December and January (that is, 2011/2012). I love these islands, and I feel like I am coming home when I come here. Since blogs are a history in reverse, starting with the latest post, I recommend that you start with the earliest post and follow the links at the end of each, that take you to the next one. I also want to apologize to anyone reading these stories for any mistakes or misinformation they may contain. I have nothing but admiration for Indonesia and her people, and I hope this humble effort of mine will contribute to appreciation of her great and ancient culture.
Selamat datang di blog saya! Berharap bahwa Anda menyukainya!

Sabtu, 07 Januari 2012

Sampai bertemu lagi…

Saturday afternoon, we ordered a taxi that would carry Yudhie and me, Sinta and Dwi to the airport. My flight was in the late afternoon, but Dwi's was very early the next morning. There wouldn't be enough time to go back home and then try to order a taxi at so early an hour. I think Dwi's flight was something like four or five in the morning. So Yudhie and Sinta resolved to stay with Dwi after dropping me off, and keep him awake for his flight. Too bad that airports all over the world are now strictly divided between passengers and everyone else. That meant I had to immediately say goodbye to my son Yudhie, to Dwi and to Sinta, so that I could go through the metal detectors and wait, alone, for my flight.

That's what we did, with hugs and kisses and a photo or two and farewells. 
Sampai bertemu lagi
Till we meet again.

Jumat, 06 Januari 2012

Holy Epiphany

Orthodox Christian ikon of the Holy Theophany
Friday, the 6th of January. This is the Christian feast day called ‘Twelfth Night’ in the West, and is the last of the twelve days of Christmas. For the Orthodox East it has to same position in the calendar, but it's a far more important feast, usually called Holy Theophany, though sometimes referred to, as in the West, as Holy Epiphany. This is the day when the identity of Jesus of Nazareth was revealed to the last Hebrew prophet, John, the honorable forerunner and baptist, who says, ‘I would not have known him, except that the One who sent me to baptize with water told me, “The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.” I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God’ (John 1:33-34).

Aghia Epiphania, Jakarta
Yudhie's local parish happens to be named after this event, so he asked me if I would go with him to Jakarta to attend the services on this day, which is the nameday of his congregation. We hoped that since Dwi had some business to take care of in Jakarta today, he could come with us to the service, and then attend to business, but that was not to be. He had an appointment in another part of this sprawling metropolis, and there wouldn't be enough time to get from the church to his appointment. ‘Will of God,’ I muttered to myself, ‘it is not time yet.’ Dwi had expressed an interest, as have many of Yudhie's associates, in Orthodoxy, but it is very difficult for most people to find enough time to attend a service. The difficulty of transportation is a large part of it.

But we were at least to spend some time together on the bus from Tangerang to Jakarta. The ride cost 5,500 rupiah, about sixty cents U.S., and the bus was crowded but very clean. It was full when we got on, so we just stood in the aisle until seats became available near the end of the ride. What surprised me on this trip, the first time I had noticed it, was that despite the tropical climate, people on their way to work in Jakarta were dressed the same way (except the women, more beautifully and creatively) as they dress in temperate America. Almost everyone wore jackets or coats, most of the women wore head scarves, and in general everyone was fully clothed as if the temperature were about 55° or 60° F (about 14° to 16° C), yet the temperature was in the high eighties (around 28° C).

Inside an angkot
What also surprised me was that despite the taboo on men and women touching each other in public if they are not very close relatives, there didn't seem to be any special arrangements, at least not on this bus. Yes, women sat with women, and men with men, but there was a mixture in some seats, and not husbands and wives. In general I have been impressed by the order and propriety, without coercion or fuss, that I have experienced in this country since I arrived. Even when in very close quarters, as when riding in a crowded angkot, I never experienced anything like segregation.

We separated to go our ways upon arrival, and Dwi and Yudhie agreed to stay in touch by cell phone. Unfortunately, as it turned out, our rendezvous later in the day was almost sabotaged by the fact that our cell phone ran out of juice. We'd forgotten to put it in its charger, I guess.

Aghia Epiphania, Jakarta
Yudhie and I arrived at church. We saw that the custom there was for people to bring bottled water and pour it into the large holy water cistern at the front of the temple, so it could be blessed and distributed. We hadn't thought of it, and so I waited in the church—the service had not started yet—while Yudhie went out to buy a bottle of water. When he got back, it was too late to add water from his bottle, as the cistern was already full. As usual, Orthodox ingenuity took over, so that somehow everyone’s water got blessed, even ours.

This was the second time I had been to an Orthodox service in Indonesia, and again I was very impressed. Fr Gabriel is a very dynamic priest and, combining the native energy with the Greek, he chants the liturgy and performs the ceremonial with great gusto and irrepressible momentum. In other words, very fast. If you don't watch your step and get in his path, he just might knock you down. Just kidding. But the Greek Orthodox tempo in worship is very energetic and quick, usually, when compared to the Russian Orthodox, which seems to go in slow motion, super slow motion.

Holy Epiphany feast day
Both styles of worship have their good points and their bad. I sometimes like the slow, meditative pace of the Russian style service. It seems more prayerful. But sometimes it puts me to sleep, literally. There's something very fresh and childlike in the Greek style, and there is a more masculine dynamic and sound than in the Russian style, which is often mellow and feminine, too much for me. Here in Indonesia, just as in America, both styles can be found, or a mixture of both styles, though not of melody, in some places.

The service was beautiful, and afterwards we had refreshments and fellowship in the parish hall. An Indonesian woman of my generation came and sat with me at coffee, and began to ask me about myself in very good English. As it turns out, she also had lived in Portland, and so we made a very good connexion. Our spirituality also matched exactly, an experience that should amaze me, but I have had it so often, I almost come to expect it. Christians of certain spiritual experience seem to be led to each other, though not often enough to work against us, but just enough to encourage us, not to make us too comfortable with ‘our own kind’ but just encouraged to know that we are not alone. That's how it was for me, and my friend.

Great blessing of the waters
One of the members of the congregation, a Greek man, saw Yudhie and me and asked us how we got to church. We told him, by public transportation. He offered to give us a ride, at least to the bus, but when the time came, he must have forgotten about us, so we just started walking out the gate of the church campus. Walking through the neighborhood, suddenly it began to rain. Not soft little droplets, but a real downpour. By the time we found a tree to stand under, we were positively soaked. I must've looked like a drowned gray rat in a white shirt hiding under a banana tree when a brand new SUV stopped right in front of us.

The driver rolled down the window and offered us a ride. He moved some stuff out of the back seat, and we got in. It never occurred to me that this man was anything but a complete stranger. Yudhie talked to him in bahasa, but too fast for me to really understand. Soon we were at the major road where we could catch the bus. He let us out, and gave us a very large umbrella to use. Then he drove off. I turned to Yudhie and asked, ‘Did he just give us the umbrella?’ It was a member of his congregation, Yudhie explained. He would return the umbrella next time he came to services. Then it suddenly all made sense—why shouldn't we get soaked to the skin on Epiphany? It's the feast day when all the waters of the earth became holy waters—even, no, especially, the rain! 

We hopped a passing angkot and, soaked as we were, crowded inside, being careful not to get the other passengers wet, some of whom were gorgeously attired young Muslim women. When we got to the bus station, we got out and tried to locate Dwi. He had called and talked to Yudhie, but the transmission kept getting cut off, so we couldn't exactly find out where he was. The bus station was a very disorganized place, and I was quite confused as to what was going on. Somehow, since we couldn't get to where he was, Dwi was going to meet us where we were. We waited and waited, but he didn't arrive.

A bus going to our destination was about to leave. We still hoped Dwi would be there at any moment, and we asked the driver—we had already boarded the bus—if he was able to wait just a few minutes more. He couldn't wait, but told us to just board the bus behind his, which wasn't leaving for another quarter of an hour. So that's what we did. Finally Dwi arrived but didn't see us and was about to leave. We lunged to the door of the bus and called out to him. He saw us, and got on. What a relief! It's kind of scary to miss your connexion or your companion when making a visit to such a large, crowded city like Jakarta. All three of us were able to sit in one seat, so we just relaxed, now that the worst was over.

It was after we got home, and Dwi had a chance to talk to Yudhie privately—they are very close friends—that I finally found out his decision about whether to return to Ambon. That's when he told me about his talk with the Lord, and his decision to go back for the second semester. That meant we would be leaving together. The rest of the evening, we just relaxed at home in Tangerang with our friends. Some of us would not be seeing each other again for a long time.

Rabu, 04 Januari 2012

Home to Tangerang, again

After a full day of sightseeing around Purwokerto, we returned and had a quiet rest back at Dwi's place. So nice to be home! But we weren't going to be staying here long. Tomorrow, it was time to be off by train, to Jakarta, and home to Tangerang. Dwi had some important matters to discuss with the administration at UPH, where he and Yudhie were educated to be teachers. Both of them were able to attend college by contracting with a Christian school system for the cost of their education. Now, after graduation, they each have to work for five years, on contract, for this system. One of the severest limitations is on assignment. They do not have a choice in where they will be assigned to teach. They simply must go where they are sent.

This means that after graduation, friends are immediately separated, sometimes by hundreds of miles, and have to establish themselves in a part of the country that can be not only distant from their families, but also in an unfamiliar culture. Yudhie grew up in Lampung and in Sumbawa, but his assignment was to a school just outside the university campus. Johnson, another classmate, though he comes from the Toraja country in central Sulawesi, was assigned to teach at the high school associated with their university, so at least he was also nearby, and could continue to attend Orthodox services with Yudhie. But Dwi was not so fortunate. He was sent to a school on the remote island of Ambon, which last year saw religious riots and the death of one of their classmates, who was a teacher as Dwi is.

Not only because of the death of his friend and fellow teacher, but because the island is basically unsafe for civilised people, Dwi was afraid to return after the Christmas holiday. He wanted to discuss this with the administrators at the university. That's why we decided to leave Purwokerto early, so that he might have a chance to do that. All of us, his parents and family and us as well were anxious for him to not be in such a dangerous place. So, after understanding the situation, we decided to just stick with Dwi and help him in any way we could. If he decided to return to Ambon for the second semester, he would be leaving early in the morning of the 8th, a few hours after I was to leave on the 7th of January.

This morning, we all got ready for the day and met together downstairs for some breakfast. Eko went out to a local warung and brought breakfast for all of us. Afterwards, Andreas and his wife would drive us to the train station before he went to work. I also was able to meet another Indonesian working at the same wood products company, Ajiwana Tangguh Nusantara, and was shown some of their products. I wanted to visit the factory but because of our change of plans, I wasn't able to. This will be a trip I want to make when I return here next time. I am always interested in woodworking and wood products, both the skills needed and the materials used.

Most of the day was taken up with travelling home on the train. This time because there were three of us, Dwi and Yudhie sat together part of the time, and then Dwi and I switched places. When I was seated next to another passenger in the seats closest to the big screen TV, I watched an interesting but wacky movie that was in English, with bahasa subtitles. That was as good as having an Indonesian language class.

Yudhie and Johnson
We took a taxi home from the train station in Jakarta, and then ‘regular life’ kicked in. I realised that my ‘vacation’ vacation was over, and now for a couple of days it would be just ‘life at home in Tangerang.’ Between today and my departure on Saturday, we three formed a temporary family to which was added a fourth when Sinta, one of Yudhie's roommates, arrived home from her holiday at home in Manado. It was during this time that I finally met Johnson Kendek, whom I knew through Yudhie, and who is also an Orthodox Christian, but still a catechumen. His family belongs to a modern pentecostal church, and it is going to be difficult for him to make the change. In Indonesia, it is not easy to depart from a family tradition, even when it's not an ancient one.

Meeting Sinta and getting to know her was the first time I was able to spend personal time with an Indonesian woman of the young generation. I had spoken to a few older women at church over Christmas, but those conversations were mostly formal. With Sinta, it was just spontaneous getting to know each other. She was also visited by a group of friends, both men and women, and so sometimes the apartment was quite crowded, and I liked it very much. What I noticed most about the young people here is, they know what is right, and they know what their rights should be as members of a free society, yet they are faced with obstacles that remain from early times in their country's history. We talked a lot about what freedom means.

Romanós at Radja Ketjil
The problem with Dwi's return to Ambon was not going away by itself. Though I can't say exactly what happened, or how, he was unable to meet with anyone official, and after delivering a written petition, Dwi decided that it would be best to just return to Ambon. Dwi is a young Christian man, and his decision was not based on fear but on trust. He walked around Jakarta the day Yudhie and I went into the city to attend the services of Holy Epiphany, the nameday of his parish church. We had hoped he'd come with us to the service, but he had other things he had to do in Jakarta, and so we just arranged to meet at the bus terminal that day and return home together.

Yudhie and Dwi look at the menu at Radja Ketjil Restaurant
But I am already rushing ahead to the 6th of January. Why don't I have a story about tomorrow? Well, it was, as I said before, just ‘regular life.’ There were highlights, though. Dwi and Yudhie and I had gone to a fancy Chinese restaurant (Radja Ketjil, ‘Little King’ in antiquated spelling to show that it is classy) the evening we got back from Purwokerto. On another evening, Sinta and Johnson joined us for dinner together outside in the street of Taman Ayu where once a week a half dozen excellent warungs come in, so people can eat and visit their neighbors, a beautiful custom. It was a rainy evening, but the rain stopped long enough for us to have our supper. Our wanderings around between Tangerang and Jakarta were fun, but again, nothing I can describe. We just got to know each other very well. I was becoming a member of the family, an Indonesian.

Selasa, 03 Januari 2012


What a strange sounding name! In Dutch days, this native name was spelled using the Dutch alphabet with its values as Tjilatjap. When Indonesians want to give a feel of past imperial glory or Dutch stateliness they will spell the name of their business or restaurant or resort or product using this older spelling. Somehow, even though the Dutch are not usually remembered fondly, Indonesians still have a fascination for, and a desire to emulate, the West. They see us all over television, movies and the internet, but when one of us actually turns up… well, it doesn't take me long to get used to being stared at! It also doesn't take me long to forget I'm a bulé, a white Westerner, because I do everything Yndonesians do without thinking twice. For me, the culture shock was in returning to the States, not coming here.

So, we headed south to Cilacap. I really didn't know what to expect. Was it some sort of national monument, or what? I was getting a strange mix of attitudes about it from the few things I was hearing. It seemed to be a bad place, because the Dutch committed lots of atrocities against the Javanese there. It seemed to be a good place, because in spite of it all, the people survived. Why would they want to preserve the site as a monument, I don't know, except to show future generations what inhumanity can be practiced by civilised nations. So the Dutch were bad parents. Will the children learn not to imitate them, or is it already too late?

Cilacap (CHEE-lah-chop) is an old fortification on the south coast of Java. It has been turned into a historical monument with some unexpected features. the dinosaur statues, for example, who would have suspected they'd turn up at Cilacap? Did the Dutch have things like them to terrorize the natives? One unexpected pleasant surprise was the presence of deer in the park, that quite tamely kept close to us, but not too close. The waterfront made the park seem a little like a beach, and I suppose it was. This was the closest we came to hanging out at the beach, except for the morning we spent on the Singaraja waterfront in Bali.

For me, Cilacap was a bit of a let down as a historical site, probably because I didn't have any previous knowledge of it, and it held no emotional content for me. As for the fortifications themselves, they were not too different from things that exist in the States that I've seen. Nothing of European content in the States is very old, except on the east coast, Boston, for example. Everything else, though we think it old, is not really very old at all. The same lack of the antique surrounds, for me, the European monuments in Asia. There just not old enough to be of much interest. I am much more interested in the native monuments. On my next stay here, we will visit Borobudur, we must.

After walking around the site, we were getting hungry. We had brought snacks with us in the car, something we always did when we went on day trips, but Dwi and Yudhie wanted to get some food from one of the beach front warungs. You just order up the food, and keep going back if you want more of something, and then at the end you pay. Sometimes the warung owner is absent when it's time to pay, so you leave the money with one of the warungs nearby to give him when he returns. I was really quite surprised how the 'honor system' works here so naturally.

Sitting on a bamboo mat on the grass with our sandals left behind, we enjoyed lunch and a drink—an actual coconut slashed open with a machete and the liquid contents sweetened a bit, shaved coconut floating in it, and ice, and drunk through a straw. It cost practically nothing, and the old woman who went to the trouble of preparing it worked so hard. I never stopped being impressed by the industry and thrift of the people of Yndonesia. Again and again saying to myself, 'They do so much with so little.' This is probably true of many underdeveloped countries, but Yndonesia seems different because it is so large, so populous, and though so diverse so mutually helpful.

Standing on the beach, looking out to sea, it was hard to believe that somewhere a few hundred miles away, lay the continent of Australia, one of the most advanced and richest countries on the planet. And here, in Java, people were making ends meet on an income that an average American or Australian can't even manage to use for a recreation allowance. To me that was perhaps the greatest and most shocking realisation I had from living in this country for three weeks. Economics is very relative. A hundred dollars in America can be the cost of a dinner date and a movie or concert. A million rupiah can be the monthly income of an entire family. The two amounts on the foreign exchange ledger look about the same. But what a difference it makes where and how you live.

Mother of hot springs

This morning, as usual I was the first up and on my feet.

Carefully stepping around the two Java men still sleeping on a futon on the family room floor, I navigated to the wash room, to perform the 'morning visit' and the compulsory Yndonesian 'shower'—the thrill of throwing little buckets of cold water all over myself never wore off, a great way to make sure you're fully awake!

By the time I was finished, the two brothers were stirring, Dwi first of course, and then Yudhie next. Gradually we all got bathed, dressed and ready to start our first day together. Where would we go to? We'd already talked about going to see the famous Buddhist site of Borobudur, or of taking a trip to Yogyakarta, but we wouldn't have time, and the logistics of getting there was more than we were prepared for. What about just going up to experience something incredible and natural nearby, like the Baturraden hot springs on the slopes of the local volcano, Mount Slamet? The forest is different up in the mountains, and the air cooler too, except right at the hot springs, and it was only about fifteen kilometers away.

That sounded like a great idea. We rejoined the rest of the family and together went out for breakfast at a warung in the neighborhood. There we talked about what the plans would be for the day. Andreas and his son Eko would be going to work, but a brother of his, Dwi's uncle, would be able to drive us up to the hot springs, and wherever else we wanted to go. This uncle was one of the few Chinese Indonesians who still goes by his Chinese name, and he is a well-known character in the town, famous for always getting involved and lending a hand—and of course, full of sage wisdom and advice. He would drive us this day.

Before we left for our trip to Baturraden, Dwi showed Yudhie and me around his neighborhood, which is, as most middle class projects, a gated community, though it didn't seem as obvious as those in Jakarta. The perimeter of the project is fenced in by a wall and even barbed wire. Even in Purwokerto, you can't take any chances. I know there are gated communities in the States—my dad lives in one in Florida—but for me and my life, I've never lived in one or had to deal with such things. The most I've ever had was a home alarm system in a house we once rented in a somewhat dangerous neighborhood. Law enforcement is far more effective and visible in the States. While I was in Yndonesia, I almost never saw a squad car or a policeman.

A curious observation: As in China, the government seems to have figured out how to control the largest number of people with the smallest force. How is this possible? I think for two reasons. First, when you call on any official or government agent for assistance in any matter, it can become so complicated and take so long and can drag you into difficulties so much worse than the original problem, that the second reason kicks in: People take matters into their own hands and control themselves, so as not to come to the notice of the official bureaucracy or the police force. In other words, make the cure worse than the ailment, and people fix themselves. Make the penalty for even a minor disorder so threatening, that order prevails. Somehow, I can hear verses from the Dao De Jing 道德經 lurking in the back of my mind. Maybe it's just the Asian way.

Back to the neighborhood and our walk through a corner of it. Fruit trees, yes, fruit trees everywhere, and with fruit on them, and yes, some of it ripe that very morning, and yes again, free for the taking. Though many of the trees are within the confines of people's property, and therefore should not be poached, there are other trees that are just planted, or are volunteers, in any grassy spot. People the world over have dreamed of an America with streets paved with gold. As for me and some others in the West, a country where the streets were lined with fruit trees and paved with ripe papayas, mangoes and rambutans, well, that would be dream enough for us!

We returned to the house and found Dwi's uncle waiting to take us on our day's travels. We would go up to the Baturraden hot springs, and after that, if there was enough time, we would also drive south and visit the old Dutch fortifications on the coast at Cilacap.

The drive up the slopes of Mount Slamet reminded me of driving in the Oregon rain forests around Portland, in the Coast Range, in the Columbia Gorge, even in the forest parks of the city itself, like Mount Tabor, where my family house is located near the top of the mountain and within walking distance of the caldera. Even our mountains in Oregon, as small as they are, are usually extinct volcanoes. Mount Tabor last erupted before human beings lived on the planet, but not so Mount Hood, or across the river from Portland, Mount St Helens which erupted with explosive force only about twenty-five years ago.

As we ascended Mount Slamet, we passed through a rain forest terrain, abundant with ferns and tall trees with their foliage near the top. This is exactly like Oregon, except the species of trees is entirely different, though their growth habits are the same. here in Java, as we passed those tall trees, I could see that they were all fitted with small taps for the extraction of latex, which is a source of rubber. What I didn't understand until I actually lived in Yndonesia was that latex is in a lot of tropical plants, even fruits, and it's not always easy to deal with. 

I remember eating a pile of small tropical fruits with Yudhie that had thin skins like Clementines, but as we peeled them, handling the rinds made our hands extremely sticky from the latex, which was hard to wash off.
After driving for some time through the rain forest, we arrived at a level parking lot where Dwi's uncle parked the car and sat down to relax and read the paper. He wasn't coming along with us into the hot springs, but he told us not to worry, but take as much time as we wanted.

Baturraden Hot Springs brochure, front and back
The photos we took will pretty much speak for themselves. The water of the hot springs was extremely hot to the touch and very rich in minerals. Where it cascaded down the mountainside in little rivulets, these channels were a bright yellow, not blue or even green as normal water.

Yudhie and Ayah, at Baturraden
The rocks over which they flowed had become bright yellow with green stripes, from the sulfur and sulfates in the water. There were trails all over this side of the mountain, paved with stone steps, and there were rest stops everywhere. My favorite photo of Yudhie and me (above) was taken at one of these rest stops. So was my favorite photo of Dwi and me (below).

Dwi and Paman Romanos, at Baturraden
Climbing up one of the step-paved trails we looked back and noticed a white man naked to the waste enjoying one of the hot spring pools. I was really surprised that he could take the heat, as when I tested the water, it felt too hot for me to even immerse my feet. It was just as strange to see another white man here at the hot springs as it was to see one almost anywhere I went in Yndonesia. The man noticed us, specifically me, and must have had a similar thought. He waved at us, and started running up the mountain path. We stopped and waited for him.

He spoke perfect English, but he was not an American or Australian. In fact, he was a Frenchman married to an Indonesian and living nearby. He told us that he comes here every chance he has, and that in general, living in Yndonesia, for him at least, is worth any inconveniences he has to put up with. Even though this was my first visit, and I was only in the country for a little over two weeks, I was already addicted myself, to whatever it is that makes living here attractive. I still haven't identified what it is, and probably never will, because it has too many components. The importance of relationships is high on the list, and the simple but healthy lifestyle also counts for a lot.

After trekking all over this side of the mountain—and we didn't even check out half the trails we could have—we started heading back to the entrance. By the way, there is a small charge to enter the hot springs, but as with most places in Yndonesia, from a Westerner's point of view, the charges seem nominal. There were some kiosks with souvenirs and other goods on the trail near the entrance, and we stopped at these and Dwi and Yudhie bought some clothing souvenirs. Just outside the park gates and before we got into the car, we stopped one more time, and bought a few more trinkets, giveaways for friends, but also a couple of wooden bead bracelets that reminded Yudhie and me a little of komboskinia, the Orthodox prayer rope. The beads were made of a very fragrant oily wood that seemed translucent. Two bracelets, one for Yudhie and one for me, tokens of our experiences together.

Yudhie Kristanto and Dwi Santosa,
at Baturraden, 3 January 2012
Uncle was waiting patiently for us. It wasn't really very late at all, so we decided to take up his suggestion that we visit the old Dutch fort at Cilacap (CHEE-lah-chop) on the coast about forty kilometers south of town. No place on Java is very far from the sea. The island seems bigger than it is because it often takes so long to travel from one place to another. The road system is still just in the beginning stages, and often it is easier, faster and cheaper to go by train. This time, it was an easy drive straight south. So we hopped into the car, and headed back down the mountain.
Next stop… Cilacap!