A Travellerspoint blog

Back in Ubud

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It’s been a long time. Fast internet connections in Lombok are rare - I have just now discovered that Lehman Brothers failed and HBOS has agreed to a bid, and I have missed the most exciting times in financial markets for nearly eighty years - and I have not in any case had the time to blog.

The Java-Bali-Lombok tour is now over. The group waxed and waned in number but never gelled very well.

Most of us started in Yogyakarta, where we took trips to see Borobudur and Prambanan. After Malang we went up several volcanoes, sometimes under our own steam: Bromo in Java, Batur in Bali, Rinjani in Lombok. We saw quite a few temples in Java and in Bali, before climbing to the crater of Gunung Rinjani and spending a few days on the beach in the Gilis, islands west off Lombok. I am now back in Ubud, Bali, wondering what to do next.

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In Yogya, near the Kraton, is the bird market, where birds are sold in small cages. Lovebirds, budgerigars and orioles are popular.

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Bird feed in the form of ant larvae and cicadas is also sold. Fighting cocks are on sale. I was shown a cock that had won a few fights but had lost its last one: it had lost its mohican after its defeat. Bats, including flying foxes, are also available, as are geckos, iguanas and monkeys.

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Most of the small cages do not bother me too much, although I am not in favour of them, but the monkeys are in a sad way and displaying the repetitive behaviours cased by imprisonment in a tiny place.

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Posted by Wardsan 20:25 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

Malang

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It’s Ramadhan. So far this has had less effect than I had expected: most of the roadside stalls disappear during the day, but plenty of restaurants stay open. Most importantly, it is no harder than usual to purchase beer.

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At the beginning of the lunar month I joined another tour. We are heading east towards Bali and Lombok.

So far the tour has been a little strange. There were eight of us, but the two Vancouverites did not turn up to the first meeting and checked out of the hotel leaving no explanation. So now we are six, with a tour leader and two trainee tour leaders.

Yesterday we saw two sites on the UNESCO World Heritage List: Borobudur and Prambanan. I’ll post photos another time. Today we spent ten hours getting to Malang, a city in the hills. There were nine of us on a large air-conditioned coach. Our guest house has an en suite bathroom, air conditioning, hot water, a power shower, and a wifi connection: unsought luxury. It is easy to do without hot water in Indonesia except when it comes to shaving. It took me a long time to realise that I could use a kettle to assist but after that eureka moment I came across no kettles for six weeks.

We are 450 metres above sea level and the air is a little cooler. Around here they grow apples, coffee and tobacco. There are a lot of gorgeous mansions in town; rich Indonesians have holiday homes here.

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Extracts from the compline service keep on entering my head. Into Thy hands, O Lord, I comme-e-end my-y spirit. This usually happens when the muezzins are singing. I was an unwilling cantor at school, but have not heard the service in twenty years. It must be something to do with the combination of music and religion.

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In Yogya I had a cup of kopi luwak. This is a very special coffee, made in Java, Sumatra and Sulawesi. It retails for $75 a quarter pound, and annual global production may be only 500lb or so. Most coffee beans are fermented in water before being roasted. Kopi luwak is instead broken down by enzymes in the gut of Paradoxurus hermaphroditus, a civet. They eat the ripe red coffee cherries, but cannot digest the stones, which are therefore excreted. Some bright or desperate spark had the idea of collecting the beany excreta and making coffee. Weasel coffee, which may be much the same, is sold in the markets of Vietnam.

The cup cost $10. It was a good cup of coffee, tasting rich. But not a $10 cup.

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In Yogya there is a Muslim Hospital, a Catholic Hospital and a Christian Hospital (the religious taxonomy is confusing). You get priority if you go to the hospital of your religion, and if you die anyway, they pray to the same God in their different ways. Alternatively, it is a form of religious discrimination.

Java, along with Sulawesi and Sumatra, produces some of the best coffee. The Javanese mainly drink…tea. With sugar, naturally. Yogyakartans would sweeten sugar if they could.

In Yogyakarta I strongly commend the Ramayana ballet, held nightly in the less wet season at Candi Prambanan. Prambanan forms a beautiful illuminated backdrop to the show, which is a Javanese dance version of the Ramayana. Bats fly around the open-air theatre. The Ramayana, a Hindu story, is more or less the national epic of Buddhist Thailand, and one of the insular epics of Muslim Java. It is the usual story: good guy marries girl, bad guy kidnaps girl, good guy enlists monkeys to help rescue girl. The accompaniment to the ballet is gamelan.

I also saw a splendid dance version of Macbeth in Solo. It was confusing, since they set it in Java and introduced a brother who tried to kill himself, but the music was brilliant. It was very loud, a modern version of gamelan. The music would have gone really well with a normal version of Macbeth on the London stage (equally, being quite strange, it would have worked with The Tempest).

And I have also seen a dance practice at one of the palaces in Solo, accompanied, naturally, by gamelan. Javanese dance looks like some Hindu statues, actually. The movement is generally extremely slow, even slower than tai chi. When the legs are moved, the toes are flexed upwards. You need very flexible ankles because the feet are often pointed in opposite directions. There are a lot of movements of the hand and wrists, with the fingers usually straight and the wrists bent back (wayang kulit have this attitude), sometimes with the thumb opposed to a finger. Dancers usually wear a long dangling sash around the waist, which is flicked, I suppose meaningfully, from time to time. Occasionally there is a sinuous Indian movement of the neck.

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This is likely to be my last internet access for a few days, so let's finish with some pictures. In northeast Malaysia I dived in two places: the Perhentian islands, and Pulau Redang.

The dive resort at Pulau Redang was a really nice spot, where I simply dived and watched the Olympics.

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Anemonefish

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A nudibranch, Cromodoris coi.

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Red feather star; this is an animal, by the way.

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Titan triggerfish

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Jellyfish

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Giant clam

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Blue-spotted fantail ray

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Blue-banded angelfish

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The feeding apparatus of a black and white sea cucumber

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Lionfish

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Porcupinefish

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Stonefish. I was fortunate to spot this, since they can kill you.

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A strangely bulging pufferfish

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A blenny

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A bridled monocle bream.

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Another portrait free of regulators.

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Posted by Wardsan 19:54 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

Jakarta


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A couple of days ago I managed to eat snake at last. I had failed to find the place on my own the previous night, so got a becak driver to show me. It was a typical warung - an ill-lit outdoor stall serving food - but there was a sign saying Sate Kobra.

As I walked in there was a cobra coiled on the floor. I said I wanted to eat, so they got a much smaller one for me. I took a photo and then into a sack it went. A few minutes later I am presented with a smallish glass of dark red liquid: snake blood and Red Bull. There was a long thin white object coiled up in the glass. I swallowed it all in a gulp. I do not know what the white object was, but given the extreme bitterness of the concoction I think it may have been the bile duct.

A few minutes later I am handed a plate with half a dozen skewers of charcoal-grilled meat. It is chewy, like crocodile. As to the taste of its flesh, I still do not know: the sate is served in a black pepper sauce that is also sweet, as if made with molasses. I suspect the snake itself tasted of little.

Some people do not want to eat an animal that they have seen alive, but I have no qualms. Eat meat, fish or mollusc, and an animal has been killed for food. Here and now, or earlier and elsewhere. Not that I want to see it being killed.

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The man who took me for that spot of herpetophagy was a Protestant. His sons are called Ezra and Jonathan. There are a few Hindus in the east of the island, but I am surprised to find Christians here. (Papua, on the other hand, is officially 99% Christian.) And next to me on the minibus coming to Yogyakarta, a Catholic nun.

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Indonesia is less wired than any of the other countries I have been to on this trip bar Laos, and I have had a news and communications blackout for several days. In Malaysia the Olympics were on everywhere; in Indonesia I did not see any.

Along with the rest of the population of Malaysia I watched the men’s singles badminton final between Lee Chong Wei, of Malaysia and Lin Dan of China, second and first seed respectively. Lee was on a one million ringgit win bonus. But, to national disappointment, he lost: Lin Dan wiped the floor with him. Every aspect of Lin’s play was superior: smashing (particularly), net work, mobility, precision. Lee did not help himself by lifting to Lin’s forehand all the time.

In Malaysia and Indonesia, you only use one name – the first one. Many people only have one name. I am therefore addressed as Mr Jonathan. I like it, except when there is another Jonathan staying at the hotel and I am given the keys to his room.

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Jakarta has a bad reputation. I spent two days there and can pronounce it not bad. Perhaps because it is not so touristy as Yogyakarta, the people are very friendly, and there are none of the parasites, manipulators and liars of Yogya. It might have got higher marks had I not fallen straight through the pavement into a drain thirty inches below. The flagstone revolved around its middle like Bruce Wayne’s bookshelf and I was badly bruised and half-flayed. Everything goes septic in the tropics, so I was very fortunate not to acquire an infection even after applying so much iodine it looked as though I had been bathing in blood.

Indonesia is much poorer than Malaysia – about a quarter of the income per head – but the centre of Jakarta looks much the same as Kuala Lumpur. The centre is vertical and vitreous, there are middle-class suburbs with trendy bars, and beautiful people with beautiful Apple laptops. (Wealth seems to be flaunted in Jakarta more than in KL, say.) In fact there are far more bars than KL: West Java is predominantly Muslim, but it is not ‘more Muslim than thou’ in the way that much of Malaysia is. There are plenty of decent restaurants and life as an expat might be pretty good, although it would be spent in a taxi.

(What is the country with the largest Muslim population? Easy: Indonesia. And the second-largest? Respect if you said India. It has 150 million Muslims.)

Wander slightly off the path, though, and it’s a shanty of zinc and breezeblock shacks. The docks in any city are insalubrious. But the docks in Jakarta – like Bristol, Rotterdam, Baltimore – were the whole point of the city for most of its history.

Before the Dutch came, the Hindu Sundanese kingdom had a port called Kelapa. In 1522 the Portuguese, who had recently conquered Melaka, obtained from the king the right to establish a trading post at Sunda Kelapa. The king, based in Pajajaran, wanted allies against the Sultan of Demak. But the Sultan defeated the Sundanese king in 1527 and renamed the port Jayakarta: total victory.

Nearly a century later the VOC, under Governor General Jan Pieterszoon Coen, obtained permission from the Sultan of Banten to build a trading post in Jayakarta. They built a fort as well. By this time the British wanted to play, and they besieged the fortress with the Jayakartans. Dutch reinforcements conquered and burned the town in 1619. They whimsically renamed it Batavia after an ancient Belgic tribe.

The walled city of Batavia became the capital of the VOC’s activities, which shows just how important the spice trade was: Batavia was on the way to the Moluccas, but surely out of the way if you wanted to go to China or Vietnam. (Melaka is much better positioned for that, but the Dutch only kicked the Portuguese out in 1641, by which time Batavia was established as the centre of operations.)

The VOC, like its later English facsimile, was not initially interested in land, just trade. In the seventeenth century it was fantastically successful, and brought vast wealth back to Holland. Chief among the spices were nutmeg and mace, from Banda in the Spice Islands, and cinnamon, black pepper and cloves. Nutmeg was fabulously expensive, but cloves were valuable too: at the beginning of the seventeenth century, a sack of cloves could buy a large house. And pepper is still a byword for expense in Dutch. The VOC behaved in time-honoured manner of a monopoly defending its market: when it found plantations of nutmeg elsewhere than on Banda, it burned them. And in his pursuit of a spice monopoly on behalf of the VOC Coen deliberately wiped out almost the entire population of Banda in the Moluccas. In Nathaniel’s Nutmeg he comes across as a pantomime villain.

While most of the goods went to Holland, the VOC also traded widely in the region. Each year it imported 6 million lb of spices back to Holland and sold 3 million lb in China, as well as pewter from Melaka. It sold Japanese copper in India, Javanese sugar in Persia, and took Indian textiles back to Melaka.

The port at Jakarta is still the busiest in Indonesia, although it is now at Tanjung Priok, a couple of miles east of Sunda Kelapa. The Dutch started building Tanjung Priok in 1883.

Sunda Kelapa is still where the phunisi, schooners from western Sulawesi, load and unload. Each ship has at least two masts, which appear to be functional. Sail-powered? I could not believe my eyes. Sure enough, they are the last sail-powered commercial fleet in the world. They have very high bows and sterns, are usually around 20-30 metres long, five or six metres in the beam. The two-masted versions can carry up to 150 tons, the three–masted up to 200. Surprisingly, though – given the outlandish collections of sails common in this part of the world, lateens everywhere – they look like conventionally rigged schooners, (gaff) rigged fore and aft, with three jibs.

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The area is still heavily maritime. The people who live here are mainly Buginese and Makassarese sailors and fishermen. A lot of the shops are chandlers.

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And, although banned from the main roads of the city, becak (three-wheeled rickshaws) are still to be found here. There is no limit to the numbers they can carry.

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(I should probably explain the term bajaj in a previous post. They are like the result of miscegenation between the BMW C1 scooter and the Reliant Robin. Three wheeled, pointing down at the nose, with space for two behind the driver, spewing poison gas.)

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While it is possible to use a boom as a crane, most of the loading still appears to be done by hand and back. Given the numbers of people available, it must be possible to load a ton in a few minutes.

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Near the docks is a maritime museum, situated in a building used by the Dutch East India Company (VOC) as a warehouse, and built from 1652 onwards.

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Apparently, when the Dutch took over they built canals; if so, it was a truly fatuous idea. Even by the standards of the tropics, Batavia was pestilential. Malaria and yellow jack carried off Dutch by the score. Eventually Daendel decided to build a new town south of the mephitic vapours, in a slightly healthier location at Weltevreden.

The old town hall, which now houses the History Museum, was built in 1627. In front of it is a pleasant square, the Taman Fatahillah. Also on the square is the wayang (puppet) museum, which has an interesting collection of wayang kulit (leather puppets, used for shadow puppetry) and wayang golek (wooden puppets). In western Java, wayang golek predominates. Both types are used for puppet theatre, where traditional stories such as the Ramayana and Mahabharata are recounted to the accompaniment of a gamelan orchestra. In 2003 UNESCO proclaimed Indonesian puppets Masterpieces of the Intangible Heritage of Humanity, a thoroughly Soviet title.

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Gamelan is performed by an orchestra of xylophones, kettle drums and gongs, together with a flute, harp and rebab (two-stringed violin). The word gamelan comes from gamel, hammer, and it is very old: it is depicted at Borobudur. I first heard of it watching a programme by Simon Rattle (then a mere citizen of the realm) about Messiaen’s Turangalîla Symphony. I have just listened to it again and Turangalîla really does not sound like gamelan at all, but was apparently inspired by it. The instruments can be tuned to five notes to the octave, or to seven, but it is not pentatonic in any Greek sense; the scale does not correspond to any of the Greek orders. In fact it is not easy to identify any melody; it is a wall of sound in quadruple or duple time, with slow chord progressions. I like it but find it a bit soporific. It is better as an accompaniment to ballet.

The wayang museum building itself would not be out of place in a square in the Low Countries, but in fact it was built only in 1912 on the site of the Dutch church, which held amongst others the remains of psycho Jan.

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Also on the square, its second-oldest building, is the Café Batavia, redecorated in the 1930s, with an upper deck entirely of teak, white tablecloths, a good view of the square, and big band swing in the air. An atmospheric place, which could serve as a location for the game Mafia.

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Another place well worth at least one visit is the National Museum. This was founded as a private collection of ethnographic objects in the mid-eighteenth century, and moved to its current location in 1868. It is known as the Elephant Building because of the statue of the elephant in front of it, given by King Chulalongkorn of Siam. He gave them to all his neighbours; this is perhaps the fourth I have seen. The bajaj driver did not know where the National Museum was; incredibly, he did not know where Independence Square was either. This is like not knowing where Trafalgar Square is.

The old building has a collection much as it has always been, I imagine. It is at its heart an old-fashioned but interesting museum with an extraordinary ethnographic collection, an aggregate of several Dutch private collections; the museum has 140,000 objects, of which only 5% are on display. Then there is a new wing, opened by Megawati in 2003. Upstairs is a floor of treasure, from two Javanese finds made in the last ten years, really well presented in a modern manner. The museum goes straight in at number two on the hit list, below the History Museum in Singapore and above the Ho Chi Minh Museum in Hanoi. Both of these get high marks for the presentation; Jakarta gets them for content. [I forgot to mention the Islamic Arts Museum in KL, which is also on the podium somewhere.]

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You see the Union Flag everywhere in Seasia. I believe it is not, on the whole, an expression of love for the UK, although it is not the worst nationality to possess around here (except in Surabaya, where British troops massacred the locals in 1945 in a bizarre attempt to prolong Dutch sovereignty). I think it is simply that the design goes well on clothes, bags, bajaj, scarves and lorries. We have the best flag and the worst anthem.

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I forgot to mention that after several months of flirting with it, I crossed the Line on the way to Java. For the fifth time, so no initiation ceremonies needed.

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Another book I saw on sale in Malaysia: Make Millions by Farming Swiftlets.

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I spent about six weeks in Malaysia and spoke no Malay at all other than the occasional terima kasih (thank you). There is no need; everyone speaks some English and some speak it very fluently, albeit incomprehensibly.

An hour after landing on Java and I am bargaining in Indonesian. What a facility for languages! Actually Bahasa Indonesia and Bahasa Malaysia are almost identical, aside from a few lexical and typographic differences. Shop is kedai in Malay and toko in Indonesian. Spelling differences include teksi/taksi, stesen/stasion, polis/polisi, masjid/mesjid; ogos/augustus, muzium/museum; bas/bis. So the difference seems to be comparable to that between English and Lallans.

Tom Harrisson says that Malay is the easiest language in the world, and so it may be. There are no cases, no gender, no plural and no tenses; the order is usually subject + verb + object + adverb; the script is roman; there are thousands of English loan words. It is not unlike the most famous English pidgin, but even in that it is necessary to add bilong to indicate possession; in Malay you place the pronoun after the noun possessed and that is all, eg nama saya, literally ‘name I’, means ‘my name’.

Here (in Malay) are some loan words: poskod, transmigrasi, konferensi, korupsi, toleransi, manajemen, bisnis, terapi, eksekutif, teksi, bas, kek, farmasi, sains sosial, optometris, asma, kaunter, tiket, botol, strawberi, epal, kopi, karipap, sukses, coklat.

Some words in Indonesian look as though they might be Dutch, or at least not English: halte (bus stop); apotek; kue (cake); rokok (cigarette); roda (wheel); kamar (room); sabun (soap); gratis (free).

Islamic terms, naturally, come from Arabic: masjid, Allah, Rasul, mihrab, madrassa, mimbar, syaria, kiblat, idulfitr.

Furthermore, pronunciation is easy and it is blessedly atonal. Vietnamese sounds like Chinese interleaved with a lot of glottal stops and Homeresque dohs. Half of every word is swallowed. In Malay, almost every letter is pronounced, and it sounds a bit like Italian and a bit like Catalan, so it is easy on the ear. It also means that I’m getting L2/L3 interference from Italian, saying things like “Ya, giusto.”

As with all languages in this part of the world, the complexity arises with the pronouns. And, as in Thai and Vietnamese, there are lots of ‘classifiers’, which you have to use when counting anything. The nearest equivalent would be ‘three sheets of paper’ or ‘two pairs of trousers’ rather than three papers or two trousers.

I have had ten hours of lessons in Yogya and the only difficulty is acquiring vocabulary. Aside from the loan words, there is nothing to hang on to when remembering the word, and no relation to familiar words. A lot of the words have 'men' or ber' in them, and most of them are long. 'Difficult' might be sulit, sutil, silut. Which is it? So it is difficult to remember more than ten new words a day; it will take a long time to acquire a useful vocabulary at that rate.

Posted by Wardsan 17:27 Archived in Indonesia Comments (2)

Solo

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Well, yes, I am travelling solo, of course, and am getting tired of it. While it guarantees intelligent conversation, I am getting a bit Steppenwolf. The Indonesians are baffled by solo travel: where is your family?

But Solo is also where I am posting from, the former capital of one of the several kingdoms of central Java. Indeed I am posting from an Italian restaurant called O Solo Mio (geddit?). I am happy eating rice for every meal, but I miss cheese terribly, and so enter every Italian restaurant I see. Java, like Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam, is rice country. They can grow two or three crops a year, year after year, without exhausting the soil, hence the very high population density. Running north-south between Borneo and Sulawesi, and between Bali and Lombok, is the Wallace Line. To the west the climate is wet, to the east dry and even arid. This is reflected in the flora and fauna and in the diet. East of Bali the staples are cassava and sago, which I am not particularly looking forward to. But I have discovered a wonderful way to eat cassava: sweetened, with coconut milk, as a pudding.

Like Yogyakarta, Solo is a royal city, founded by Pakubuwono II in 1742. The current king is Pakubuwono XIII (the family has even less imagination when it comes to names than the Danes), and he lives in a large kraton, or palace, in the middle of the city. Since the Dutch took over the king has had no political power and his duties are ceremonial. ‘Like your queen,’ said the other bloke on the guided tour, an Aussie. ‘Yours too, last time I heard.’ He is the oldest male of 36 children; he has an older sister but a Salic Law holds here. His father had six wives. Pakubuwono X had over thirty wives, and he did his duty, producing over a hundred children.

Another branch of the family has a palace in town. The museums have the same rhythm: reception pavilion with an ornate roof and lots of pillars; collection of gamelan sets, wayang, dancing gear, silver, gold and crystal. It's nice, but it's all the same, and one day I would like to be shown round by a guide who speaks English so I can ask questions.

Solo is also politically unstable. There were terrible riots here in 1998 after Suharto was forced out. And a cleric and suspected terrorist, Abu Bakr Ba’asyir, was arrested here in 2002. (Remember that both Jakarta and Bali have been bombed by Islamist groups.)

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I went to Bandung because of an article I read in an in-flight magazine that said Bandung had 500 buildings from the 1920s and 1930s. (The reason most people come to Bandung is to shop at the outlet stores.) So I had a vision of a concentrated area of Art Deco. In reality it is a city of two million people – two Birminghams - and the buildings are spread out.

It is quite difficult to get around cities in this part of the world, and I still have not learned the limits: half a day spent walking around in the morning produces prostration in the afternoon; walking half a mile takes for ever because every street is a crowded market (among the junk on sale: a 2003 Italian football magazine in Indonesian with Roberto Baggio on the cover) and the pavements are not for walking on; the traffic is terrible and the transport takes you to places you do not want to go. So, for instance, I wanted to go and see the Bandung Institute of Technology, Soekarno’s alma mater, but although it was only a mile or two down the road it was a sizable expedition and I just could not be bothered.

I saw a few buildings in Art Deco or International Style but they are all in dismal condition and have aged badly. It may well be that I have missed the highlights. In reasonable condition is the Museum Konperensi, dedicated to the 1955 Africa-Asia Conference when Soekarno got to chat to Chou En Lai, Ho Chi Minh et al.

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This is Caesar’s Palace. Inside was a computer sales fair. This looks like a Kala – a Hindu symbol in a very Muslim city. Javanese Islam is quite different from the Middle Eastern version. It acknowledges the reality of spirits, for example, and saints – just as people did in Java before Islamic came.

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There are a lot of beggars in Bandung, many of whom are cripples born or made. This impinged on my consciousness because there are few beggars in Malaysia. Indonesian unemployment is officially 8%, but the economy is growing at about 7% a year and I doubt there is a structural excess supply of labour. But the urban population is increasing (30% or so of the population, much more in Java) and there is clearly no public safety net.

(There used to be a programme on British television called the Bandung File. It was for ‘minorities’. Being a child, I had no idea what the title meant, and I remember it as deadly serious and boring, because it was on just before something I wanted to watch like Captain Pugwash. I suspect it really was deadly boring though.)

I had a good day when I got out of Bandung. Bandung is 750 metres above sea level and the land to the north is higher. Judging by the food stalls they grow strawberries, pumpkins, maize, broccoli, cauliflowers, avocados. I took an angkot (a vintage Mitsubishi Colt minibus with two benches down the back) to Lembang and another angkot to a 2,000 metre high volcano called Pangkuban Perahu, or overturned boat. It is dormant, having last erupted in 1969, but there are a few fumaroles and sulphurous smells everywhere.

It is hugely touristy – memories of the Perfume Pagoda – and a snake of souvenir stalls lies along an arc of the crater. They are selling not quite as tatty tat as at the Perfume Pagoda: t-shirts, hats and scarves, miniature guitars, ashtrays made of a local palm, mineral rocks.

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Most of the tourists are Indonesian, but there are others from Japan and Korea. The Japanese, among others, regard it as obligatory to make ‘V’ signs (‘peace’) when being photographed.

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It is harmless, of course, but I find it offensively ovine. (I’m not keen on marches or wristbands ‘against poverty’, either. No-one is marching for poverty, actually, so the only interesting question is: what do you think should be done about it? Marching makes people feel smug while achieving nothing. Poverty, meanwhile, is reduced or increased at the WTO in Geneva, and in the capitals of the world. Its prime cause is kleptocracy and civil war. It is also, to a much lesser extent, affected by other countries’ trade policies, especially in agriculture and textiles. There is a trade deal available that would be good for most of Africa but, last I heard, it was blocked by China and India.)

My portrait pose is obviously much better.

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It has twelve craters, of which two are large: Kawah Ratu (queen crater) and Kawah Upas (poison crater). Kawah Ratu is about 700 metres across and 100m deep. It has a flat, sandy floor.

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So does Kawah Upas. Lots of people have ignored its name to leave their mark on the floor.

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To walk around the craters you have to hire a guide, but I could not be bothered with that and so struck off on my own. This was perhaps not sensible, but not wholly irresponsible, since the path was obvious most of the time. The rim of Kawah Ratu is at roughly 1,800 metres and the peak is at only 2,000 metres, but it is a tricky and stressful climb up the path, coated yellow by, I think, hydrogen sulphide. (Incidentally, this coating is a sublimate: it has passed from the gaseous state to the solid without passing through the liquid.)

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On the path I caught up with Arjen, a Dutch guy who went to school in Papua (his parents being missionaries) and speaks Indonesian. He is also the first person I have met in a month who has heard of Nottingham Forest. We visited another crater: Kawah Komas. This is a small area of pools, bubbling madly as carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and sulphur dioxide come out of solution. Some are superheated to 120º C. Others are pleasantly warm.

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An enterprising guy nearby is selling eggs – for boiling in the waters – and bottled black mud, saying it is good for the skin. I doubt it, but tourists from Jakarta sitting in the pools are covering themselves with mud.

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Afterwards I took ojeks (motorbike taxis) to Lembang and then to Miribaya. A fast-flowing river runs down a ravine from Miribaya to Dago, a northern suburb of Bandung. It is also a park and you can walk the six km or so between them. The path is paved with brick, and every couple of hundred yards an ojek rider offers you his services; in fact I saw no-one else walking. There were a couple of mildly diverting waterfalls, and a couple of tunnel systems built by the Dutch in 1919 and the Japanese in 1942.

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Posted by Wardsan 17:01 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

No, she went by herself

sunny
View Asia 2008 on Wardsan's travel map.

Kuala Terengganu, capital of the state of almost the same name, is another highly Islamic City. I liked it a lot more than Kota Bahru, although that may just be the effect of chance. The people seemed as friendly and helpful as anywhere in Malaysia.

I saw 23 mosques in one day. This is the central mosque.

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Admittedly 21 of the 23 were miniature versions of famous mosques, at the Islam Edutainment Park. They ranged from modern ones in southeast Asia to the Dome of the Rock “in Palestine”. The least successful reproduction is the ziggurat in Samarra, Iraq, the most successful the Dome of the Rock itself.

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On the edge of the same island in the river is one of many new mosques in the state, the Masjid Kristal. Strangely, it is built to almost exactly the same design as St Basil’s in Red Square, except that it is covered in reflective glass panels.

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“Do you like it?” asked another tourist, a doctor from Singapore. “I love it”, I replied, of course. “Too gaudy”, he pronounced. I told him he sounded like a Protestant.

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One thing that is wearing rather thin is the constant azans, or to be precise, the dawn call to to prayer. In Kuala Terengganu it began shortly after five, which seems a bit excessive, when dawn itself occurs around seven. From there I have added easting to the longitude, while subtracting an hour from the time zone, so dawn is earlier here. The azan began at twenty to five today.

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Yesterday I arrived head-first back in the third world. Hiring a bajaj or tuk-tuk from the station, it took forty-five minutes to get two kilometres. I had arrived at the butt-end of the carnival celebrating independence, which arrived for Indonesia on 17 August 1945.

Immediately noticeable, as in Vietnam, were the large numbers of motorbikes and scooters on the roads. In contrast to Vietnam, where everyone wears open Tommy or Jerry helmets, here most people wear large enclosed smoked-glass motorbike helmets. The tuk-tuk stalled in the middle of the main road. The driver got out, took the cushions off his seat, poured some petrol in the tank, pulled a cord as on an outboard motor, and off we putt-putted for a couple of minutes before it all began again. (They drive on the left, incidentally, which is a bit odd.)

And, as in Vietnam, the hassle begins: hawkers, hustlers, hookers, non-navigable pavements, impassable roads, motorcycles driving on the pavements, nutters screaming in the street (London has the last). Malaysia seems dull in comparison.

Dinner was fun, though: a stew of marinated unripe jackfruit; chicken marinated in soy sauce; beef skin stir-fried with beans, bay leaf and coriander seeds and coconut milk; marinated tofu and soyabean cake in palm ginger; hard boiled egg in shallot skin; some kind of crackers. A rijstaffel by any other name. A bit free with the sugar, but pretty good, so I’m returning to the same place, Lara Djonggrang, right now. (Java claims to make the best tofu in the world. I wouldn't boast about this.)

Today I took four forms of transport - taxi, bajaj, becak, train - and the first three all took me to the wrong destination. Wherever you go, people say 'Hello, Mister'. Here in the centre, it is because they live off tourists and want your attention. Elsewhere, it is because they are excited to see a white face and shout a little English. ("How are you?" invariably follows from the relatively fluent.) As in Vietnam, the kids just light up when you greet them back.

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Take the populations of the UK, France, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands and it roughly equals that of Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populous country. Over half of the population lives on Java, which has a population density four times that of the UK.

In Malaysia you fly over jungle or palm plantation. Landing in Java, on the other hand – Krakatau just over the horizon to the west – we flew over small rectangular fields. Most were brown and some were smoking – burning rice stubble, I suppose. The landscape was largely urban and suburban, though, so it was not unlike flying over Surrey.

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Two frightening books were on sale in an ordinary bookshop at the airport at KL: Future Forward: The Zionist Anglo-American War Cabal’s Global Agenda by Matthias Chang, a former political adviser to Mahathir. The book claims in all seriousness that Jews started both World Wars and that international finance is run by British Jews. The book is a bestseller.

Also on sale: The International Jew: The World’s Foremost Problem, published under the name of Henry Ford, who believed that the Lusitania was sunk at the behest of bankers to get the US into the First World War (but didn't write the book). The book contains a reprint of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which was published by Ford’s Dearborn Independent newspaper and read by Hitler. The latter are known throughout the western world – and were known in the 1920s - to be a particularly vile forgery, first published in Russia in 1903. In the Muslim world lots of ordinary people believe they are real.

As Chang shows, it is perfectly respectable around here to be rabidly anti-Semitic and to believe in global Jewish conspiracies.

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Do people from Nornireland compete for the ‘Great Britain’ team at the Olympics? (They certainly did in 1972, when Mary Peters won.) If so, why is it not the UK team?

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One thing I learnt at the Islamic Arts Museum in KL was the origin of the swirly bodhi-leaf pattern known as Paisley. Paisley became a centre for the production of Kashmir (cashmere) scarves, a craze for which spread the country in the nineteenth century.

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It’s common to see a gecko in your room in Seasia, even more common to hear them in any open building. I generally like lizards, not least because of their insectivorous proclivities, but the most common geckos are rather hideous: snot-green, flat and rubbery, with bulbous pinkish phalanges. This fellow is a little less ugly.

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  • **

On the reading list recently:

    Tales, Brothers Grimm
    The Collected Raffles, E W Hornung
    Tyrant, Valerio Massimo Manfredi – utter, utter drivel
    Vietnam: A History, Stanley Karnow
    Thirty-three Teeth, Colin Cotterill
    The Secret Agent, Joseph Conrad – chilling, nasty, tragic
    The Power and the Glory, Graham Greene
    Post Captain, Patrick O’Brian
    HMS Surprise, Patrick O’Brian
    The Honorary Consul, Graham Greene
    Marine Life in the South China Sea, Margaret Gremli
    Marine Fishes, Gerry Allen
    The Rebel Angels, Robertson Davies
    World Within: A Borneo Story, Tom Harrisson
    Royal Flash, George Macdonald Fraser
    The Nonexistent Knight and the Cloven Viscount, Italo Calvino

World Within was so badly proofread in a Malaysian edition as to be incomprehensible in parts. Tom Harrisson was a zoologist and anthropologist who became curator of the Sarawak Museum after the Second World War. During the war, as a member of SOE, he parachuted into the interior of Sarawak to set up a base and recruit local tribes to harass the occupying (and then retreating) Japanese forces. In the first part of the book he talks about the Kelabit people, and in the second he recounts the story of his war.

Posted by Wardsan 19:25 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

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