Yogyakarta: "Utami and Imogiri"

May 10, 2005

 

Jeff W. observed that my letters from Western Australia focused almost entirely on "places" I visited rather than on "people" I met.

The British gave us the following: "Never complain; never explain." So I will do neither and just say to Jeff, "Good comment."

Now Java is a whole different bowl of rice.

"Java, with a population of over 130 million people, is one of the most populous islands on earth. With an area of 132,000 sq km, it is over half the size of England, but the population is twice as large. The density is double that of The Netherlands, Europe's most densely populated country."

Simply put, Java is carpeted with people.

I have met a few and now I have several new friends.

Utami, 22, is from Banywangi, a sweet and beautiful Muslim girl who is cautious with her emotions. She is a recent university graduate. She has "rules."

Cumi, 24, Utami's friend from Yogyakarta, is another cute Muslim girl. "Free but in control."

Zae, 24, a "hippie" type who reminds me of me. He is taking too long to graduate from university

Rini, 20, Zae's girlfriend is an English major. She confided that I was the first foreigner she has ever spoken to.

Rut (Ruth), 29, has agreat smile  She works at the Millennium Hotel in Jakarta.  Rut is a Christian girl with "rules" just slightly left of Cumi's.

Evert, 54, an ex-patriot Dutchman lives in Bandung with a gorgeous girlfriend, half his age.

Era, 30, from Bandung, has a mocha-coffee complexion, long jet black hair, and a "Western" figure with rules far to the left of everyone. (Sorry, but that's another story. Remind me to tell you about her some time.)

Lukas,42, is my excellent long-distance driver and guide in Yoyga. I met his lovely wife and darling, shy six year old daughter. Lukas is one of fourteen children. His aunt also has a dozen. His father is pushing the century mark and still smokes a pack a day. His mother is mid-nineties.

Finally, Navieta, a Japanese language student and her fellow workers at the Royal Merdeka Hotel in Bandung: Desi, a waiter; Qodar, the breakfast cook; Iman, a waiter. They are Sundanese - the second largest ethnic group in Java, with their own language and traditions. They are tall and slim, with fine features and a light golden complexion. The boys are handsome and the girls are beautiful.  Navieta informed me that Bandung is known as the "City of Flowers."  For sure.

"CALL ME CRAZY?" Part 1.

Yogyakarta

Central Java

Republic of Indonesia

9 May, 2005

Hot and Humid

Dear Family and Friends,

Salamat Malam.  Good Evening,

I am sitting on a large mat at the edge of Alun Alun Kraton, a large park here in Yogyakarta - "Yogya" as the locals say. I am drinking a concoction of refreshing ginger water with croutons and small jellied coconut balls.

Sitting with me are Utami, Cumi, Zae and Rini. We are listening to a quartet of strolling musicians - two guitars, string bass, conga drum. I requested an Indonesian love song. For an encore they did that American love song that begins with "Can't take my eyes off of you...I love you baby."

A short while ago we all "had a go" at the evening activity here in the park. First you rent a blindfold. Then someone points you in the direction of two large banyan trees about 10 meters apart and about 200 meters down the field. If you walk between them successfully, then all your dreams come true. I bunked into the tree on the left. Zae went around in circles. Utami went straight through. No, sports fans, I don't think Jan is in Utami's dreams at the moment.

So, how did "Papa Jan" end up spending the evening with a group of bright cheerful kids?

They say that one sure sign of insanity is constantly behaving in the same unproductive pattern yet always expecting positive results. So, call me crazy. I always ask the same question and always get the same answer. When it seems reasonably appropriate (is it ever?) I ask a local woman, "Would you like to travel with me?" And they always respond, "I would love to travel with you, but...."

In Bali, at the Internet shop, Utami "chatted me up" as she commented on my bright green shoulder sling bag from Myanmar. I mentioned that after Bali, I would be traveling to Yogya. She said she attended University there. She knew the city quite well and had lots of friends. I asked my "question."

The next day, with a big Indonesian smile, she said, "I will be happy to accompany you to Yogya."(I found out later that this is a common practice and courtesy.) Two days later, after a brief discussion of the "rules of the road," we flew from Denpasar, Bali to Yogyakarta, Central Java. It was Utami's first ever airplane trip.

I suppose that one of the advantages of being a young, single Muslim woman is that you know what to expect because the young, single Muslim men know that the Muslim girls will always say "No." Traveling together, sharing the same room, sharing the same bed, they always say "No." Regardless, I had a great time and I had a "great deal." Call me crazy.

For the price of an inexpensive airplane ticket, I was in the company of a beautiful young woman who was my personal driver, guide, interpreter, shopping consultant and social secretary. Utami borrowed her friend's motor bike. I filled the tank (55 cents) and off we went. Still think I'm crazy?

We visited the standard tourist stops and some remote, non-touristic areas. The standard stops included the palaces and gardens of the Sultans, the bird market, and the Batik shops and markets. One silver-tongued tout steared us to an "art gallery" where the women were painting pictures right before our very eyes. The Talmud says never ask the price unless you are a serious buyer. I was curious about one "original" piece so I asked. And winced. This was because I was surprised, and because it is the appropriate "bargaining" strategy. When the salesman realized there was "no sale" he said we could "negotiate" and that he would give me a "discount" and that "I will give you a special price, mister."

In these circumstances, like my Muslim girl guides, I always say "No." I thought of my good friend, the late Bernice Diamond. She decided that "Unless I can wear it, or eat it, I don't buy it." For the price of an "original" wall hanging, I can buy about ten really neat colorful Batik design shirts in the market. You can never have enough shirts. Right, Oscar?

Oscar, my new friend and "ancient" history teacher at City College, is a well-respected scholar at a world famous institution in New York. While having lunch together last spring, we were reminiscing about growing up Poor in The City.

Oscar is from the Lower West Side of Manhattan, not a pretty place, and I of course am from Highbridge in the West Bronx, an OK place at that time. I mentioned to him that on more than one occasion I went to high school wearing a pull over sweater to hide the holes in the elbows of my shirt. Oscar parried, "You had a shirt?"

Counting my undershirts and my T-shirts both stenciled and plain; short sleeve sport shirts of cotton and silk; long sleeve sport shirts - cotton, silk, flannel, (flannel?) and linen; long sleeve dress shirts with barrel cuffs and French; cotton pull-overs; tuxedo shirts; I reckon I am pushing my own century mark. Are we together on this, Oscar, or is it just me who's a little bit "mishuggah?"

Mishuggah is a "French" word that means, well, mishuggah. Or in this particular instance, obsessive-compulsive. Call me crazy.

My favorite shirt is the one I wore at Imogiri. "Perched on a hilltop 20km south of Yogya, Imogiri was built by Sultan Agung in 1645 to serve as his own mausoleum. Imogiri has since been the burial ground for almost all of his successors and for prominent members of the royal family, and it is still a holy place."

"To enter the tombs you must first walk up about 300 steps and then don full Javanese court dress, which can be hired for a small fee." Colorful batik shirts and sarongs, and for me, a cap. I think I looked a little silly, but Utami, in an off-the-shoulder number, truly was a princess. Tell me, you "shrinks" out there, why do I fall in love with girls just barely old enough to be my younger daughter?

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