Monday, June 14
Yogyakarta, Java, Indonesia
I walked over a mile down to the Kraton, also known as the Sultan's Palace, today to listen to the gamelan orchestra practice, which they do every Monday and Wednesday from 10:30 a.m. until noon. I got there late and only saw about half of the performance, but it sounded wonderfully tranquil and majestic. The musicians were really old school. I wouldn't be surprised if some of them played on those old Javanese gamelan LPs that the Nonesuch label recorded and released back in the early 1970s. Scores of tourists who were checking out the rest of the Sultan's Palace filed in and out over on the side of the pavillion. A few stopped to take a photo, but most of them barely even listened to the music. How sad! When it ended, I walked around the rest of the compound and took a bunch of snaps.
There's a museum inside dedicated to Sultan Hamengkubuwono IX, the current Sultan's dad, who was the first Governor of the Yogyakarta Special Region, the ninth Sultan of Sultanate of Yogyakarta from 1940 until his death in 1988, and the second vice president of Indonesia during the Suharto's reign. The museum is a huge place, comprised of numerous buildings that proudly display the Sultan's military outfits and weapons, royal finery and full regalia, numerous large portraits of himself and the family, plus furniture, china, tools, and pretty much everything else from his personal stash. I also stopped by a little shop where a couple of artisans make those insanely detailed Wayang Kulit shadow puppets by hand. That was so amazing.
I took a becak a couple of miles down to the Purawisata to catch a performance of the Ramayana Ballet, a version of the epic Hindu battle / love story. There were plenty of fight scenes throughout, featuring punching, kicking, archery and even a real-life flame war with torches; and lots o' tender love scenes. Although the dancers and gamelan musicians put on a fine performance, the musicians' efforts were drowned out by a huge din created by a row of big, loud electric fans that ran down each side of the hall, and a really rude audience of European tourists who talked through much of the show. To top it all off, the venue featured the acoustics of an airplane hangar, which, coupled with the aforementioned electric fans and audience, made it nearly impossible to hear the music and singing. The Javanese gamelan really needs to step it up and play a lot louder under these circumstances.