Saturday, June 12
Yogyakarta, Java, Indonesia
Spanning roughly 150 x 600 miles, Java is one long stringbean of a volcano-spined tropical island. Boasting the highest population of Indonesia, many of whom are Muslim, its largest citiesâ€“Jakarta on the West side and Surabaya on the Eastâ€“are sprawling, polluted, centers of raw, urban chaos. Yogyakarta and Solo in Central Java rival each other as centers of culture, with regular dance and gamelan music performances and tons of other traditional artistic output in the form of carvings, sculpture, painting, and much more. Endless beaches, jungles and mountains also attract their fair share of foreigners.
I slept in this morning until 10:30. It felt god, I mean good and refreshing to rest up for a day. I took a stroll down the main drag in Yogyakarta, called Jl Malioboro, a long, four-lane street containing a dizzying array of stores, shops, stalls and carts selling every kind of product and food under the sun. I came across a few rad street musicians. The first one was playing an odd bamboo percussion contraption while he kept a beat with a tambourine fastened to his foot. Even though I put a few coins in his jar twice, he stopped playing whenever I tried to shoot a photo. I pretty much had to sneak a couple and a really short video clip.
A big thunderstorm hovered over the area for the rest of the day, which definitely put a "damp"er on things. I soldiered on down the avenue anyway, trying to stay under the plastic covers of the food stalls as much as possible. I saw a rad percussion outfit, made a donation and shot a photo, but when I started to shoot a video clip, the song ended and they packed up their instruments and walked away into the rain.
Next, I stopped by the tourist office up the street to get a list of local gamelan and dance performances, and got stuck there for over an hour because of an intense downpour. I haggled with a couple of becak (bicycle cab) drivers, but they always want too much money and won't budge. I tried to work my way further up the street under the food stall covers to no avail, and ended up back at the tourist office, which caused the becak drivers to bust out laughing at me.
At that point, I got annoyed, shoved my man purse and guidebook under my shirt and just walked out into the never-ending downpour. One of the becak drivers kept laughing at me and yelled, "Welcome to Jakarta in the rain!" Yeah, dude, thanks. It's just water. It won't kill me. By the time I got back to my room, I changed into a dry shirt, put on my rain jacket and went out to eat at Bedhot.
At 8:00 p.m. I walked back down the street to the Sono-Budoyo Museum to spy a two-hour Wayang Kulit shadow puppet play. This one was in a much larger venue than the intimate version I saw in Bali, and it was supported by a full gamelan orchestra. Right away, I could tell I was in Java because they like their gamelan very slow and stately, in sharp contrast to the hyper fast and explosive kebyar style of Bali. Likewise, mellow floral patterns are carved into the Javanese gamelan, compared to the fierece dragons that festoon almost all Balinese ones.
It was rad being able to freely walk around the room and shoot photos during the performance. (You can watch the puppet show in front of or behind the screen.) Only about 15 or 20 people filtered in and out all night. It sounded so amazing to hear this great music in real life after listening to it on records for so long. The metallophones chimed and the gongs bellowed, while the dalang (puppet master) matched the instruments with his deep, resonant singing and clacked a ragged rhythm with his toe block. The entrancing sound of the backup singers completed the complex yet oddly tranquil sound tapestry with a sublime, melodic beauty.
Right as the piece was drawing to a close, a bunch of fireworks started popping off a block away. As I walked back up Jl Malioboro, the whole main intersection and boulevard was jam-packed with people--mostly teenagers--hanging out. A couple of really loud bands played, some kids had their tricked-out lowrider bicycles on display, and I saw a boy that couldn't have been more than four do a fire-eating performance. I pretty much headed straight home and jumped in bed because I had to get up at 4:30 a.m. for a tour.