Monday, May 24, 2010

WORDS Competition Weekend

WORDS weekend finally came in early April, and it was pretty great.

Representing Dwiwarna was Anindita.  Her project was a process for making used plastic bottles into pencil cases.  We left late on Friday for the Aston Marina, the very same hotel I spent my first five days in.  We arrived last, but still in time for ice breakers and a nice welcome dinner.  It was great to see the other ETA's and their students.  The students were outrageously social, carousing and nongkronging from the start.

The competition kicked off on Saturday morning with a remarkable one-person drama (none other than Mike's student to boot), in which a teenager descends into drugs and sex and pornography before a fast and tragic death.  It had huge shock value and was actually hilarious.  I was very impressed, especially with stage presence.  Anindita did great.

We got the results after lunch (everyone was a winner!) and later in the afternoon, a Casper Slide / Electric Slide extravaganza.  It was good, old-fashioned fun. 

We had the rest of the night off.  Necessarily, we hemmed and hawed and grouped off and rendez-vous'd and wondered where this person or that person was and got really hungry for 3 hours before finally ending up at a bowling alley.  It was the first time bowling for all of the students - students from Surabaya, Papua, Kalimantan, Sumatra - and it was great.  I couldn't get over how American it was: bowling!  And how cool it is to go bowling with someone from East Kalimantan?  Seriously. 

Sunday we went to the national monument - a Washington-monument-like obelisk with a golden flame at the top.  It was so hot, and more or less predictably no one was interested.  After the obligatory walk out to the base of the monument, we sought out shade and killed a half an hour, before someone was like dude let's go back to the buses, and so we all went and sat in the AC.  Shortly, we were off to our corners of the archipelago.

The students' projects were impressive and I think they had a truly memorable experience.  I wouldn't have predicted such success for WORDS weekend, but a success it was.

Sunday, May 23, 2010


With April now officially underway, Alison and I took a long weekend trip to Central Java's lesser sultanate, Solo.  Formerly known as Surakarta, the city has kept up a long history of competition with its southwestern neighbor, Yogyakarta.  After getting settled in, taking a becak ride, and eating a sub-$1 lunch (while totally lacking in great-tasting food, Solo abounds in cheaply priced eateries), we were off to find the celebrated Solonese gamelan performances we had read about.

We proceeded to the only venue anyone in town seemed to know about for traditional performances.  (Contrast this with the much smaller Ubud, where venues are found every block).  A dilapidated theater greeted us.  There was an hour to kill before doors opened for the nightly performance.

What do you do when you have an hour to kill in Solo?  Go to the carnival, of course!  Unbelievably, there was a 60-cent entree fee carnival right next door:

We wandered around, got told we couldn't ride the carousel because we weren't kids, and were generally stunned.  Soon a live band began playing dangdut hits.  It was sort of sad at first, as the place was empty and the stage was enormous.  But wouldn't you know it, Indonesians started pouring in.  And ordering cold tea, and singing along, and smoking clove cigarettes, and loving the dangdut.  I was enamored with what I perceived to be a dramatic battle of egos between the lead singer, a very short, 40-50 year old man, and his would-be-lead-singer keyboardist.  They alternated singing the bluesy, over-the-top vocals.  The songs usually featured any number of money-note, high-pitched lines, and as the performance went on I felt like they were trying to one-up each other, straining harder each time to eek out the most volume from their upper registers.  The intraband diva drama, real or imagined, kept me entertained until showtime.

I think the bathroom sink offers a sort of analogy by photograph of the Solonese theater:

The theater was sort of in shambles, the dancers were not practiced, the gamelan was missing a bunch of instruments.  The performance featured a lot of lines and comedy in Javanese.  It was a bit slow, especially because we couldn't understand any of the words.

At least the costuming was full-throttle:

If the theater had some serious touch-ups, it could be a nice space.  What you're not seeing here are the worn-down chairs, a quarter full with Indonesians (half asleep and the other half smoking clove cigarettes) and vaguely dirty floors:

You can't escape it:

Solo, like Yogya, has a kraton - a sultan's compound complete with grounds, gamelans, trees, etc. 

The sultanate, stretching back hundreds of years, has kept track of its line on this wooden board:

Religion freely intermixes in cultural centers like Yogya and Solo.  The relatively new and dominant Islam is nevertheless absorbed by the ancient traditions.  For example, a distinctly Hindu offering is laid out daily in the central grounds of the ostensibly Islam-practicing sultanate:

They had several halls filled with Dutch and Solonese antiques, like this carriage:

A giant ancient oar:

The walls of the kraton:

Solo's becak-filled streets:

Yellow angkots:

Solo's feature mosque:

If you're looking to shop for quality batik, Solo is the place.  There are countless batik shops of every price range and variety.  These ladies are making the negative wax-dye fabric right outside a major distributor:

Solo's streets are a lot less flashy than Yogya's.  No touristy eateries, no shops, lots of kaki lima (literally five legs, meaning the walkable food carts):

A becak nap:

These singular street lights are a highlight:

We didn't see many foreigners, but there were some Indonesian tourists:

Our last stop in Solo was a well-known university.  We were hoping, again, for some quality performances, but the place was on some kind of break and almost totally dead.  One corner of the campus had a gamelan under repair, so we invited ourselves in and took some pictures and tooled around.  Here is a dry erase board with some songs in unwieldy notation (traditionally the songs were not written down):

The repairman goes to work:

By etching away at the keys, he can change the pitch.

Play that bonang!

The most spectacular sights of the trip were reserved for the plane ride home.  A dramatic sunset from our window seats greeted us on the short flight to Jakarta:

Ada pelampung!  Cari di bawah kursi anda dong:

Lion Air:

Permisi.  Can you ask the captain to turn the plane to the left, so we can have a better shot at the sunset?  Thanks!


Life in Parung

Photographs of everyday life in a West Javan kampung.

Dwiwarna's gratuitously high-ceiling'd cafeteria:

Class 10D:

Students hail from all over the archipelago, including 20% (many on scholarship) from Papua:

The enormously popular Plants vs. Zombies, being played in the Language Center:

In batik, my counterpart, Pak Rezki:

This enormous, Indonesia-centric map graces the main wall of the Language Center.  I can say with some confidence that I never saw a map oriented this way in the United States:

A major feature of my life here is angkot riding.  You can travel massive distances (well, for a long time at least) for next to nothing on these ubiquitous (in West Java) open-door vans.  This is the number 06, from Bogor to Parung, which I rode almost every weekend of my grant as the first part of traveling north to Jakarta.  Bonus sighting - the cardboard-box-with-plastic-handle-style luggage that is very popular among Indonesians for transporting their stuff, even on airplanes:

The main Parungian thoroughfare:

Green air conditioning:

Bali: Finishing Touches

A couple more character-revealing glimpses of Bali.  In the middle of Monkey Forest Road, at the center of the cultural/tourist capital, Ubud, Balinese women display their strength in hauling massive weight on their heads:

A short walk out of Ubud on Jl. Kajeng brings verdant rice fields and, on a clear day, a distant view of towering Mt. Agung:

Jakarta greeted me with the following warning:

DRUGS! Is a bad decision to have such satisfaction.

Indeed.  And that's the feature sign in baggage claim of the nation's capital's airport.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Last Weekend in Bali: Keliling, Keliling!

We sprinted to the finish of Bali with a two-day extravaganza tour, swinging out west, then north, then east, and finally back to Ubud.

Our first stop was a palace area:

I almost thought I was in Japan, or some other first-world country, until...

A burning pile of trash.  You can't escape the lovely smell, even in temple-palace areas.  But the charm of the moss-covered stone carvings still remained:

Bali is truly remarkable for the penetration of artwork, especially stone carving, to every corner of the island.  You could say it's part of their architecture.

Our next stop was the celebrated Tanah Lot on Bali's west coast.  The temple's excellent location gives it an epic charm.  You can walk to it when the tide is out:

The pounding surf makes this stretch of beach popular for surfing as well.

When we'd had enough of the fabulously photogenic Tanah Lot, we were off to a monkey/bat forest temple.  Akin to monkey forest temple in Ubud, this area featured even more human-like monkeys and positively enormous fruit bats.  Check out the faces on these guys.  Sittin' around, hangin' around:

I love these statues with the bugged-out eyes:

Getting your arm groomed while holding the baby.  If this were in the US, it's a lawsuit:

Hangin' out with the adults:

Serious trust going on here:

What balance!

So we round the corner and hear this rustling and hushed screeching.  Then the guide points out hundreds of enormous bats "sleeping" way up in the trees.  They were rocking back and forth like maniacs.  It made my skin crawl:

The people were surprisingly comfortable with monkeys:

At the end they had bats that you could pick up and touch and take pictures with.  I politely refrained:

Hangin' out, muchin' down.  Clearly this guy has an enormous personality:

By lunchtime we were stranded in a downpour as we headed north into the mountains.  After a 40-minute wait the rain relented.  This mountain lake temple, shrouded in mist, reminded me strikingly of Japan.

The view from the restaurant porch where we waited out the rain:

Under an umbrella to shield us from the lingering pitter-patter:

The temple!

There was a temple ceremony happening right as we arrived.  Some late arrivals came across the lake by boat:

The temple procession:

They kept the barong nice and dry from the drizzle by throwing a blue tarp over:

A final take:

By mid afternoon we were on the north face of the mountains and stopped to view Gigit waterfall, one of Bali's largest air terjun:

On the way back up from the falls, we had the strangest encounter with a crazy warung owner lady.  We stopped at her stall/restaurant area for a late lunch and ended up eating lots of dessert we never asked for; buying pounds and pounds of coffee beans for cheap that she said she grew, harvested, and roasted herself nearby; and signing a guest book that contained short quips from hundreds of her "friends" who had also eaten there.  Weird!  As we're walking out, she says to Alison that she's just had some kind of spirit vision about her, and gives her a crappy Hindu-looking handicraft:

I think we were puzzled, weirded out and a little charmed.  And pounds of coffee richer.

We arrived at Lovina Beach, famous for the dolphins that hunt in the ocean nearby, as the sun was setting.  A long time ago, Nina and Herul visited this same beach, and its name has some bearing on choosing the name 'Lavina.'

The central dolphin statue greets visitors:

The sunset, over Lovina's black volcanic sand, was a nice capstone to the action-packed day.  The distant landmass is Java:

That night we contributed what we could to a lifeless Lovina nightlife.  Tourist low season left most places completely empty.  As so often happens in Indonesia, we were offered the chance to take the stage!

Day 2.  We kicked things off with dolphin-watching followed by snorkeling at dawn:

The sunrise was beautiful as we and the other tourist-bearing boats headed several kilometers off of shore.  The water was remarkably calm, more like the surface of a lake than an ocean:

At last the golden king reared its head:

Before we knew it, we were engaged in a whack-a-mole style contest where we and the other boats would scan the horizon for groups of dolphins surfacing to breathe.  When one boat would spot them, it would immediately race off to get as close as possible.  The other boats would all follow suit:

We did get to see dolphins, and one time from pretty close.  They would surface in small groups of 3-7 or so.  I managed to get one shot of them without other boats in the picture:

The snorkeling was also great.  Morning lighting makes for a different show, and we didn't get baked by the sun nearly as much as we did in the Gilis.  By 9am we were off, first stop, a local hot spring:

Then, a Buddhist/Hindu temple complex.  The "Borobodur of Bali"!  Seriously, how great are those bugged-out eyes?

The lower part was the Hindu area.  Statues along the stairway recall Besakih, and the flat-line gates are pure Bali:

Freaky moment: is this guy alive?

I don't really get what the point of this is, but it creeped me out:

The innards of the Borobodur-like structure reminded me vaguely of being inside an Italian cathedral:

Some weird trees outside:

The Borobodur structure herself!  Cool, but it doesn't really measure up to the real thing, if you know what I mean:

Next was another mountain temple.  Check out those crafty offerings.  Hanging-over bamboo poles like these adorn the sides of many streets in Bali.  It takes on either a Lord of the Rings or a Dr. Seuss-like quality, I can't decide which:

This statue got lopped off in the middle:

Here's a building full of women making offerings.  They don't kid around with this stuff:

Before we knew it we were back to the Land-Before-Time-like Gunung/Danau Batur area:

Here's a clearer shot from further around the bowl-shaped valley.  This has to be one of the most epic shots of the whole trip:

Shortly afterward, we were stopped when a Balinese woman stood in the middle of the road.  She hastily blessed us, putting offerings in the car and sticking rice to our foreheads.  I was thinking, how cool, she's just making offerings on our behalf out of the goodness of her heart!  But then she started asking for money.  I gave her a paltry sum, since the whole thing suddenly seemed quite disingenuous indeed.  And I hate having rice stuck to my face anyway:

Next stop was a water palace.  Cool:

Randomly, they had a great statue of a barong (with its human feet sticking out, just like you would see in performance!):

There were groups of Balinese gathered here, swimming.  It's like a Balinese take on a public pool - lots of stone carving, cool fountains, no lifeguards!

After driving through some more mountains all the way to the eastern tip of Bali, we swung back through and stopped at one of the oldest known villages on the island.  Apparently, they continue their traditional way of life here as they have done for thousands of years.  The headlining traditions include rare double-ikat weaving, practiced in only 3 places worldwide; a ceremonial yearly fight where competitors must draw blood with their cactus-like stick-weapons to end the contest; naturally, lots of cockfighting; and a scroll-writing technique.

An enthusiastic guide led us about the village:

Doesn't matter where you are in Bali, you can still find these guys close by:

This cool scroll carving/drawing/writing narrates the Ramayana epic:

The process involves carving and then filling the negative space with a black coal-like substance:

Gotta love the pride - all his examples he did for both us and the tourists that came before were the word 'Bali':

The famed double-ikat weaving!  I don't really get it, but it takes them like six months to produce a decent-sized piece.  The cheapest, smallest double-ikat they had was about $70.  Here it is in the works:

We stopped briefly in Candidasa, an eastern beach, for an otherworldly sunset:

Next up was a bat temple.  Basically they found a bat cave, where thousands of the creatures spend the day, and they built a temple around it.  Now they bow and pray at the bat temple.  Here's a bugged-out eye statue on the way in:

Immediately in front of the cave itself:

Yep, there are definitely bats in there:

Adornments remind you of the temple theme, if you couldn't hear or see the little guys wriggling around inside:

The last place we drove through before arriving back in Ubud was a city called Klungklung.  For some reason, this intersection made a sudden vision of a first-world Indonesia, with wide, clean streets and beautiful buildings, jump into my head.  It was pretty cool.  I confess I have a hard time recalling it:

And that was our final, action-packed Balinese smorgasbord.  I definitely left a part of my heart there.