Showing posts with label Java. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Java. Show all posts

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Indonesia: Halo-halo Bandung!

I finally arrived in Bandung after an eight hour train ride from Yogyakarta. If Yogya is the cradle of Javanese culture, Bandung is said to be the cradle of Sundanese culture. The weather was a bit cooler since Indonesia's fourth largest city is 2,520 feet above sea level. And because it's closer to the equator, average temperatures don't vary much from a low of 22.9 C in July to a high of 24.2 C in May. The city is known for its large collection of Dutch colonial and tropical Art Deco structures. And thus, I decided to take a walk around Bandung even just for a few hours to check them out.

So from the Bandung Train Station, itself an Art Deco structure, I walked towards Jalan Asia Afrika where many of the buildings could be found. Since it was still early, I waited at the steps of the Gedung Merdeka for the Museum of the Asian-African Conference to open.

The museum chronicles the events of the 1955 conference which has been Bandung's claim to fame. Twenty-nine young (and old) nations from Asia and Africa met in order to build solidarity with the continuous fall of colonialism. I was able to see the hall where the conference was held. There are two rows of flags, the first with those of the 29 countries which participated in the 1955 conference; and the second, the countries of Asia and Africa during the 50th anniversary in 2005, obviously a much larger group since most countries in the region gained their independence after 1955. One thing it chronicled as well was the change in the blue field of the Philippine flag which was much lighter in 1955.

Close to the Gedung Merdeka is another Art Deco gem of Bandung, the Savoy Homann Hotel, its new design completed in 1938.

After about four hours in Bandung, I decided to make my way back to the train station for my trip back to Jakarta. I had been told that the views along the way would be refreshing. And I was not disappointed. They also had rice terraces. And the thing I liked about the rice terraces there was the houses blended well with their surroundings since they all had clay tile roofs. I hope they cover the galvanized iron roofs in Banaue and other Cordillera towns with cogon grass or nipa so that they don't look like eyesores amidst our grander and more majestic rice terraces.

Bandung is also known for its shopping. But I didn't get a chance to shop. Maybe next time. It's best if you shop with friends and many locals say Bandung is a group destination. And if you're wondering about the title, "Halo-halo Bandung" is a popular revolutionary song which was inspired by the 1946 Bandung Lautan Api (Bandung Sea of Fire) where the residents and combatants, as a sign of defiance to the Dutch who demanded the surrender of the Indonesians, deliberately burned the southern part of the city. More photos in Multiply.

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Thursday, June 07, 2007

Indonesia: Yogyakarta, cradle of Javanese culture

I arrived in Yogyakarta early in the morning of June 5. The train station was a heritage building, as it is with most of the major train stations in Java. My batchmates in Jakarta had made arrangements for Dimas, a PY in 2004, to meet me at the station. Since I was starving after that long trip, he took me to this Nasi Gudeg place for breakfast.

As with most Central Javanese dishes, Nasi Gudeg was a bit sweet. It’s actually a complex dish composed of several component dishes. I appreciated it more after I visited their kitchen, learning about the overnight cooking process. The first component dish, duck eggs are first hard-boiled, then shelled, then re-boiled again with different ingredients and spices until it reaches a dark brown color. Another component is the chicken dish. They were also grating coconuts and chopping some young jackfruit at the back for another dish. There was also a tofu and cow skin dish. The last component was white rice. They prepared large servings beginning the night before for sales the next day.

We met up with Happy, a PY in 2005, and proceeded to the Kraton, the historic palace complex of the Sultan. Yogyakarta is actually a special region in Indonesia since its top officials are not elected. Rather, the reigning Sultan of Yogyakarta and Prince of Pakualaman are governor and vice-governor respectively. This resulted from a statement by the rulers of both principalities during the declaration of Indonesian independence that the Sultanate of Yogyakarta and Regency of Pakualaman would be part of Indonesia. There have been issues though, with the Indonesian central government failing to honor the agreement in 1988. But to make the long story short, the current sultan is also governor of Yogya.

Among the places we visited were the coronation hall and a part of the main palace. You could see the servants of the sultan in traditional Javanese attire walking around the palace barefoot since they are not allowed to put on footwear. And male servants have a kris knife tucked behind them.

In one of the halls, there was a gamelan performance. It was lucky there was one that day since they don’t perform every day. In another hall was a museum dedicated to the life of the previous sultan, Sri Sultan Hamengkubuwono IX, who even became vice-president of Indonesia from 1973 to 1978. After the touring the palace, I took a bus to Borobudur.

I arrived back in Yogya late afternoon June 6, after visiting Borobudur and Prambanan. I first looked for a place to stay for the night in the Jalan Sosrowijayan area where most of the budget hotels can be located; then took a stroll around the Jalan Marlioboro area to do some souvenir shopping. I got myself a pair of wayang golek (puppets) and masks among others.

Then for dinner, I went to one of the warungs which appear along Marlioboro every evening. You sit on woven mats while eating dinner. One of the favorites is the ayam goreng (fried chicken) which they say is marinated in coconut milk. I also had lalap (fresh vegetables) and sambal (chili) to accompany the dish.

The next morning, after purchasing my ticket to Bandung at the train station, I took a walk around Yogya. First stop was Vredeburg Fort which is located in an area of fine colonial buildings. The fort was built by the Dutch in 1765 to protect the governor. From Vredeburg, I walked to the Kraton then to Taman Sari or the Water Castle, a pleasure place for the royal family, with bathing pools where the sultan relaxed with a bevy of beautiful women. It was quite a walk and the hotel was a bit far. So I decided to take a becak (rickshaw) back to the hotel.

In the afternoon, I took a one-hour train to Solo which cost me Rp7,000. It was a big risk since I might miss my train to Bandung, but I had wanted to visit the Sangiran Early Man Site, which is the third UNESCO site in Central Java. From the Solobalapan Station, I took a becak to the Solo Bus Station. My plan was to take a Purowadadi-bound bus and get off at the junction to Sangiran. But good thing I asked for some advice at the tourist information counter.

They offered that I take an ojek (motorcycle) straight to Sangiran for Rp35,000 (US$4) which sounded expensive at first. But they explained that the bus would cost Rp5,000 one-way and when I got down at the junction, I’d have to haggle with an ojek for the four-kilometer trip to the museum which could amount to Rp15,000 or even more since I was a foreigner. Add the time factor and uncertainty since the bus was slower and finding an ojek to take me to the museum might have been a hassle. So this turned out to be a good deal.

Few people actually visit the place because there’s nothing much to see except a few fossils and replicas of Java Man skulls. In fact, I was the only visitor at the museum that day. But for a UNESCO World Heritage addict like me, it was a must visit. I was back in Solo earlier than expected which meant I would be early in Yogya and had a lot of time to spare before boarding the train to Bandung.

More photos in 2007-06-06 Yogyakarta, Indonesia and 2007-06-07 Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

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Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Indonesia: The Hindu temples of Prambanan

Prambanan, another UNESCO World Heritage site in Central Java, is the largest Hindu temple compound in Indonesia. To get to Prambanan from Borobudur, I had to take a bus to the main bus terminal of Yogya, the Umbulharjo Bus Terminal, and transfer to a Solo-bound bus, getting off at the gates of the temple. I spent Rp3,000 for the trip to Prambanan from Yogya. You could easily finish the park in half a day which is composed of the main temple, Candi Rara Jonggrang (which is what most refer to when they say Prambanan), and three others namely Candi Lumbung, Candi Bubrah and Candi Sewu.

There are 224 temples in the Prambanan complex, which is named after the village where it is located. Three are main temples namely Brahma Temple in the north, Vishnu Temple in the south, and the biggest among the three which lies between Brahma and Vishnu temples, is the 47-meter high Shiva Temple.

Characterized by tall and pointed architecture typical of Hindu temples, the main temple incurred significant damage during the 2006 earthquake which hit Yoyga which is why it was fenced out and you could only view it from a safe distance.

Candi Sewu on the other hand, is actually a Buddhist temple and the second largest in Central Java after Borobudur. The fact that the Hindu Rara Jonggrang Temple and Buddhist Sewu Temple were built 800 meters apart indicated that Hindus and Buddhists lived in harmony with each other. The Sewu Temple complex has 249 temples, consisting of one main temple, eight apit temples and 240 perwara temples. The main temple forms a polygon of 20 corners with a diameter of 29 meters and a height of 30 meters.

After a late lunch at a warung along the road, I waited for a bus back to the Umbulharjo Terminal in Yogya and took bus no. 4 to the Jalan Marlioboro area.

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Indonesia: Sunrise on top of Borobudur

When I arrived in Jakarta, the city had several greeting arches which read "Hari Raya Waisak." It was obviously a big festival. Little did I know that it was a holiday the day before I arrived. Although majority of its citizens are Muslim, Indonesia also declares holidays on important Christian, Hindu, Chinese and Buddhist days.

June 1st this year was Waisak in Indonesia, a festival which commemorates the birth, enlightenment, and demise of Buddha. The celebrations center around the largest man-made structure in the Southern Hemisphere, the Buddhist temple of Borobudur in Central Java.

After a nine-hour train ride from Jakarta, I arrived in Yogyakarta (pronounced Jogjakarta) at about 6 a.m. I'll write more about Yoyga when I get back and continue exploring this Javanese city. But I'll go fast forward and talk about my surreal experience in Borobudur, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Friends in Manila had tipped me that there was a hotel within the grounds of the park itself and that by staying there, I would be able to explore the temple long before the crowds were allowed in. So after doing some research, I finally found the Manohara Hotel's contact numbers and asked my friends in Jakarta to book a room for me. It was good that the Waisak was over since that meant rooms would be easily available.

I took a one-hour bus from the Jombor Bus Station to Borobudur which cost me Rp10,000 (US$1.15). The good thing about booking in Manohara was that the entrance to the park was free for two days. That meant close to Rp200,000 (US$24) in savings since foreigners paid hefty amounts to enter. All I had to say at the gate was that I was booked at Manohara and my reservation number.

Manohara Hotel was a sprawling complex of guest rooms, conference rooms and restaurants that followed a distinctly Javanese architectural style which blended well with the surroundings. From the hotel, I could see Borobudur perched on top of a hill. Before climbing up the temple, I checked-in to drop off my bags. The room was Rp351,000 (US$41) a night. While you had to pay an extra Rp102,500 (US$12) per person to be able to enter the temple at 4:45 a.m. the next day. It was most definitely worth it. I didn't take too long in the room since I was raring to climb up this gargantuan structure which, together with Angkor Wat and Bagan, ranks among the great monuments of Southeast Asia.

Sometimes, I ponder how man was able to construct these masterpieces with the little technology they had at that time. Decorated with 2,672 relief panels and 504 statues of Buddha, this great temple, when viewed from the top, takes the form of a tantric Buddhist mandala, and is thus said to be the biggest mandala in the world. If we Catholics have the Fourteen Stations of the Cross, Buddhists who made the pilgrimage to Borobudur were said to reflect on each of the 1,460 narrative panels which depicted various scenes from the life of Buddha and his teachings. I finally reached the top after several rounds appreciating the reliefs at various levels.

Since Borobudur is the only temple inside the park, I decided to make my way back to the hotel to take a nap, waking up just in time for an early dinner. This was one of the few legs of my journey where I really made sure I maximized my vacation. Later in the evening, I watched an educational video about Borobudur in the hotel audio-visual room. I guess I was just too excited to climb up early the next morning so I had a difficult time sleeping. But I was able to get up thanks to the 4 a.m. wake-up call.

A van took me and two other hotel guests to the back entrance. It was still dark when we got there and the entire temple was lit by strong spotlights on every side. I first took some photos from below then made my way up the stairs to the top of the temple to wait for the arrival of the sun.

It finally made its way up, slowly enveloping the sky and the surrounding mountains with its radiance. The experience was indeed one of a kind. As I absorbed this heavenly scene, the silence around me was broken as I heard the noise of school kids down below. The first regular visitors for the day were making their way up the temple. I had it all to myself, well almost. But it was now time to give way to the droves of tourists which were climbing up the stairs.

I started to walk back to the hotel for my complimentary breakfast. After a quick meal, I was back to bed to get more sleep. By 11 a.m., I was on my way back to the bus station to rush over to Prambanan, another UNESCO World Heritage Site. More photos in Central Java Indonesia 06/06 and Central Java, Indonesia 06/05.

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Monday, June 04, 2007

Indonesia: Walking around old Jakarta in Kota

Kota Tua Jakarta (Jakarta Old Town) or Old Batavia is a 130-hectare special region in the province of Jakarta (contained in the cities on North Jakarta and West Jakarta) that was declared a heritage zone by Jakarta's governor in 1972. It stands today as a legacy of Indonesia's Dutch colonial past. Although a bit neglected, what's important is that the buildings were not demolished and there are concerted efforts from both government and private groups to restore the area and rejuvenate Old Jakarta. Kota was therefore on top of my places to visit in Jakarta.

I arrived in Jakarta close to 9 p.m. My AirAsia flight was an hour delayed. But it wasn't too much a bother considering I paid so little for it. From the airport, I took a Damri bus to Blok M for Rp15,000. Taxis would most definitely cost you a fortune so ask around which Damri bus stops closest to your destination.

The plan was for me to meet up with my SSEAYP batchmate Wira at his office and I was instructed to take a cab from Blok M. I didn't take much notice to the detail which said I should take a Blue Bird Taxi. I would later learn that in Jakarta, taxis are branded and it's the passenger who refuses the taxi and not the other way around as is the case in Metro Manila. And they stick to safe names such as the Blue Bird Group (be careful because not all blue taxis are Blue Bird taxis) and Express. It turns out, there have been a spate of taxi holdups where drivers are in cahoots with the crooks, picking them up at designated places to rob their hapless passengers. Good thing nothing happened to me. Here's a detailed safety guide to taxis in Jakarta.

I met up with my other batchmates the next day. After a late lunch, we trooped to Kota. On the way there, we passed by the business district and I was impressed by the wide and well-landscaped avenues, grand fountains and monuments which one can find all over Jakarta. And there were so many trees... many, many trees! It seems Manila is the only Southeast Asian capital without tree-lined roads, aggravated further by MMDA Chair Bayani Fernando who declared an all-out war on trees in Metro Manila, with an Inquirer article once saying "MMDA chief Fernando: We'll cut more trees." Add to the fact that he churns out some of the ugliest infrastructure in the world (same goes for the DPWH). Those pink and blue pedestrian overpasses are plain and simple ugly! And he expects the Metro to look nice? He should fire his designers and consultants for lack of taste!

As we neared, there were already a significant number of grand colonial buildings. And I was quite happy to see an entire area of Dutch colonial architecture, many abandoned or dilapidated, but still standing. How I had wished the Americans had not carpet bombed Intramuros during the liberation.

Anyway, we walked towards the Taman Fatahillah, which was the old town square. The focal point of the square is the old city hall (stadthuys) of Batavia built in 1710 which stands on one side of the square. On the opposite side is one of Jakarta's chic bars, Cafe Batavia, named one of the world's best bars by Newsweek in 1994 and 1996. The bar is housed in an 18th century building, the second oldest in Fatahillah Square. As they say, the bar's authentic decor, celebrity visitors, fun parties and fine food have become world famous and it had thus become a must visit when in Jakarta.

All over the cafe, bathroom included, is an impressive collection of photographs and paintings of movie stars and celebrities, generals, royalty, and world leaders from days gone by to the present. And despite its celebrity status, prices are not as expensive as most 5-star hotels. Their best drinks include award winning cocktails Borneo Sunset and Marry Me.

From Kota, we took a bajaj (pronounced bajay) to another historic area known as Sunda Kelapa, which is Jakarta's picturesque 17th century harbor. It was getting dark when we arrived so I was not able to check out up close the magnificent Makassarese schooners which still dock in the port. Although the watchtower was locked, we were able to request the caretaker to open it for us. And we climbed up several wooden flights of stairs to the top of the tower which gave us a great view of the port.

We then took a cab to the 450-foot Monumen Nasional, or Monas for short, which was built to symbolize the fight for Indonesia's independence. Jakarta has a plentiful supply of monuments left by Sukarno, most in the Russian "heroes of socialism" style. Many of them have acquired funny and descriptive nicknames. And the Monas is called "Sukarno's last erection" (check out the photo to find out why) since he was overthrown before it was completed.

For dinner, we headed to Jalan Sabang, Jakarta's street food haven and sate center. There may be sate (satay) all over the Malay region. But none of them can match the heavenly delicious peanut sauce which accompanies the sate ayam we ate in Sabang. I want to try making peanut sauce to partner the pork barbeque we have here.

Anyway, the next day was mostly rest since I took a two-hour motorcycle ride from North Jakarta to South Jakarta early in the morning and got a feel of Jakarta's rush hour traffic. But it also gave me a window to check out Jakarta, the landmarks and the city's daily life. I'm off to the Gambir Train Station for my trip to Yogyakarta which is about nine hours away. I spent Rp190,000 (US$21) for an eksekutif class ticket. More photos in Jakarta, Indonesia 06/03

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