Sunday, June 13
Borobudur, Java, Indonesia
I woke up at the crack of ass, also known as 4:30 a.m. for a tour to Borobudur, a giant Buddhist temple that's bigger than a city block and taller than Godzilla. It was built back in the ninth century, when Buddhism reigned as Java's primary religion. (Now the country is mostly made up of Muslims.) The temple consists of six square levels and three round ones, each of which contains endless Buddhist teachings rendered in really corroded stone carvings. There are also hundreds of statues of Buddha himself--many of which were beheaded by vandals over the centuries.
I ascended the structure one level at a time and proceeded around each one clockwise, as requested on the sign out front. This process is called pilgrimage and "follows a path circumnambulating the monument while ascending to the top through the three levels of Buddhist cosmology, namely Kamadhatu (the world of desire), Rupadhatu (the world of forms) and Arupadhatu (the world of formlessness)." I added in another process of my own called TALOP, or Take A Lot Of Photos. When I got about halfway up, I heard a rather unholy chorus of screaming and shrieking far down below. Dozens of tour buses full of mostly Muslim school kids had arrived. They skipped the pilgrimage and made a beeline straight for the top, where they hung out and milled around in a thick stew of humanity that was nearly impossible to walk through.
As I made my way back down to the ground, A small group of them approached me and very politely asked if they could record a Q and A with me as part of a school assignment to interview foreigners. Of course, I said yes, then they whipped out their cell phones and recorded my answers to such basic questions as, "Where are you from?" "Where have you been on your trip and where are you going?" "What do you like about Indonesia?" and several more. The whole scenario was so cute! A few minutes later, I was surrounded by a mob of about 30 kids who stared and snapped photos. Now I know what it feels like to be a celebrity. The crowd quickly fizzled away by the time the interview ended.
This same process repeated itself a couple of minutes later with another small group of girls. Then three adult Muslim women asked if they could take photos with me. We chatted for a while and they asked how old I was, if I was married, etc. They were surprised at my age, as they thought I look much younger. All of these people were so sweet. A bit later, we said our goodbyes, as I had to go jump in the van. We made a quick stop at another small structure called the Mendut Temple, which contains one large Buddha statue flanked by two disciples. Supposedly, this statue was built to top Borobudur, but it turned out to be too heavy to hoist up.
When I returned to my room, I noticed that my big tube of sunblock was missing. I had left it laying on the bed the day before. I emptied out my backpack and looked under the mattress and all of the furniture, to no avail. I know I didn't lose it, because I never take my sunblock out of the room. I'm sure a hotel employee stole it. I was so pissed, I promptly checked out of the hotel and moved over to the Lotus Losmen, where I found a room that was almost as good for slightly leas money, plus a free breakfast.
Then I set out on a journey to buy more sunblock. After searching a couple of nearby convenience stores, where I turned up nothing, I had to walk way down Jl Malioboro. At the intersection of that street, I had a really lame run-in with a local. A little background first: a tout is a dude who hangs out on busy streets in tourist areas and approaches the unwary traveler with a super-friendly demeanor and asks questions like, "Where are you from?" etc. Then he tries to steer you toward an art or batik gallery, claiming that it's an art exhibition. Other destinations might include a hotel, homestay, tour operator, restaurant or myriad other local businesses. He basically tries to trick tourists into thinking he's a friendly local, when he's really just a salesman.
As I approached Jl Malioboro, a tout asked me, "Where are you from?" It gets kind of old hearing that same line all day long, so I said, "I don't know," as I kept walking. He got pissed and replied, "From your mother," as he smacked me on the back of my shoulder with the back of his hand. Wow. This guy stepped the trickery up a notch to verbal abuse and assault. I just shook my head and kept walking. Back to the sunblock quest. The first drugstore wanted $9.00 for a tiny three ounce bottle. That's more money than a huge tube would cost in the United States! It's weird that most stuff in Southeast Asia is way cheaper, except sunblock, I guess. I made my way into a weird shopping mall, where I found a small tube for $2.50 on the second floor of a department store.
Then I couldn't find my way back out, because there was only an up escalator and no down one. The young girls who worked the counters laughed as I circled around the floor like a trapped animal trying to find a way out. I finally walked into a back area of the mall and eventually found my way to freedom. I planned to go see the Ramayana Ballet at Purawisata in the evening, but another heavy rain poured down, so I just ate dinner at Bedhot and went to sleep early.