Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Magic, and Other Scary Things

1. Yesterday as I was walking out to buy some dinner, my neighbour stopped me and asked me where I was going. She was wrapped tightly in a sarong, something she never usually wears. She said that a few hours ago, she was eating dinner with her family when suddenly her entire body started to itch and burn. She used up an entire bottle of cooling powder and another bottle of Balpirik -

- but nothing seemed to help. She had writhed on the floor and shouted until her husband got so worried he went out to find a traditional doctor. She said that someone had tried to 'buat' her (put a curse on her) and that she now had to say as many prayers as she could and read the Quran so she could fight off the curse. She also said that she knew who did it, and pointed to the house next door. She started telling me in whispers all about this person who never liked her and, according to her, killed their own mother. She said this person's mother was fine when suddenly one day, her leg went "busuk" (rotten) and she died. (I don't know whether to believe this or simply assume the mother had diabetes and nobody knew.)

2. One of the new tenants in the homestay is an Indonesian middle-aged man who speaks excellent English and worked in Australia for a few years. He told Feng Yi some things that scared her, and last night he told them to me too. He said that recently he had been hearing a lamb in his room. A lamb! And that 'someone' had put a finger in his jar of nutella. I am not sure whether to be freaked out or amused that the 'someone' must like chocolate spreads just as much as I do.


3. When I was walking back home from the warung, a plastic bag containing my dinner swinging from my wrists, a lady wrapped in a oversized black cloth grabbed my arm and stopped me in the middle of the deserted gang (street). She started hissing at me and said I shouldn't believe anything 'that girl' tells me because she likes to spread rumours about things that happen to her when 'the truth' is that she is just weak. She said that I should just 'jangan berkenalan' (stay away and not be friends) with someone who believes in black magic and curses, and that friendship with her will just bring me harm! I was too shocked to do anything other than nod weakly and when she let go of me my arm went numb from how strong her grip was. Today I have a bruise where she held me. If not for that, I would seriously have entertained the thought that I simply dreamed the whole incident up.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Javanese Warungs.

I ate at another roadside warung again. This would be my 2nd time eating at these kinds of places because the food there is just.... unhealthy. It's either fried or stir fried.

Since I was alone this time, I am not shy about taking pictures of my surroundings and food.

Location: Ring Road Utara, near the junction of Jalan Kaliurang KM 5,8 and Ring Road Utara and near the Kentungan Transjogja Halte
Time: 6pm

So, here's how my surroundings looked like:


Ya, that's the kitchen where that guy is preparing the food.


And the cars were zooming by the warung.

My food came!
I ordered fried chicken (on hindsight, I should have ordered roasted chicken - oh well) and omelette with rice.


The finger bowl comes with just water. A plate of greenies would be provided. Notice that I had some leaves in the finger bowl. The green leaves are from the greenies plate and they smell like mint with oil-repelling properties. They are edible, but I don't like the taste of it. So, I put them in the finger bowl (as taught by my Javanese friend) to wash my hands with.

Steps to eat, Javanese warung style:
1). Wash right hand in water bowl (forget about using your left hand - it's RUDE. I use my left hand to hold the plate, that's all). Water bowl can be with or without leaves.
2). Tear off a piece of chicken/egg/whatever using the 4 fingers and thumb of your right hand. Wave your food morsel in the gravy thoroughly (found on a separate plate or under the food).
3). Pop food in your mouth. Do not chew yet.
4). Line the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and last fingers of your right hand together so they form a kind of shovel. Ladle up some rice with those fingers and pat the rice down with your thumb so the rice is formed into a small, neat lump. Be realistic. Don't ladle too much rice or you'll have too much to handle.
5). Bring your hand to your mouth and (using your thumb) push the lump of rice in.
6). Chew and repeat from step 2.
7). When you are full, wash your right hand in the finger bowl. Make sure to get rid of the oil on your fingers.
8). Ask for bill. (rice, omelette, lime drink and fried chicken came up to Rp12.000)

When I got there, the Javanese guy manning the stall was saying everything in Bahasa Indonesia, complete with hand signals. For example, he said, "Minum?" complete with hand signs, when asking me if I wanted a drink. My Bahasa Indonesia may be merely passable (I speak slowly, though), but I do understand street language. And miming the word 'drink' for my benefit is just .... *sigh*.

And throughout the time I was there, I was stared and whispered about.
I was only there for dinner, for goodness sake.
Ah, well. I'm an outsider here.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Things about Yogya that I would miss.

I had the crappiest test today ever, since I was the only student in my class. And the teacher had her eye on me all the time - can't cheat! =D
The test had so many components, and my vocabulary is like a child's. And I didn't know that my vocabulary would be tested in the "Listening and Speech" test.

Whatever. I'll pass overall anyway. I think I did relatively okay in the rest of the tests.

With the Bahasa Indonesia tests over and done with, half of my semester here is over.
And I'm just beginning to settle in.
My internship starts next Monday.

I'm beginning to do a list of things that I might miss when I'm back home in Singapore.

1). The nasi padang place near the UGM Graduate School



The food there is very affordable, and has a homecooked flavour to it. 3 types of side dishes, 1 glass of es teh plus rice would cost around Rp 7000. Today I got 5 types of side dishes (can't resist the little little pieces of gorengan)), half a slice of papaya and a glass of es jeruk cost me Rp 9000.
Thinking about it makes me hungry again.

The male undergraduates who go to that place usually pile their plates high with rice (I've seen mountains sitting pretty on those plates before). I think the cost of the meal is calculated by the types of food and not the amount. I'm not sure. I haven't tried piling it on high yet since I don't think I could finish the types of mountains they have on their plates.

2). The wild little buses that go round and round in the city

Sorry, no picture. I'm usually too busy trying not to fall off the bus while boarding/alighting. I can't whip out my phone to take a picture. Earlier today, I took the bus from my department to Feng Yi and Shalina's area since I needed to post some postcards and to get my laundry. I was on the bus for a very long time and it cost me Rp 2500. Okay, so the seats are small (and the elbow of the guy sitting beside me was in my side the whole time), but it does get me to wherever I need to go. The time of arrival is dependent on how many stops the guy makes, and how long he stops each time. Not for the faint-hearted (the bus driver was driving against the traffic this morning!) or the impatient.

3). Mad laundry service

Laundry in Yogyakarta could be a luxury in Singapore. I drop my laundry at a laundry shop. How much I pay is dependent on the weight and the charge per kilogramme of clothes that shop charges. For example, I dropped off 3kg of laundry last Sunday at the laundry place near Shalina and Feng Yi's place and it was ready yesterday. The guy writes me a note (which he ultimately doesn't use because he knows my face and name) for Rp 7500. My clothes came back today nicely ironed, with a lily scent and in a clear plastic bag. 1 kilogramme of laundry cost Rp 2500 to launder at the shop, and customers need to drop off a minimum of 2kg. The people at the laundry shop label each piece of clothing article with the customer's name (which I have to cut off in a bit) so they know what belongs to who.
Some laundry shops along my street can charge up to Rp 4000 per kilogramme of laundry!
(Ah, current exchange rates are at Rp 6775 = S$1 or thereabouts)
Please compare this to Singapore's rates and level of service.

4). Snacks and instant noodles

I'm surprised I haven't mentioned this yet, since it's a whole culture here.
There is an entire row dedicated to instant noodles in the supermarket, as well as another row dedicated to snacks and other munchies. Forget Twisties. This here is the real deal.
And, things like Milo powder come in small sachets so people can buy small amounts at one time. It's easier to store too!

Although there are many things I like about Yogyakarta, one thing continues to puzzle me. The national post offices.
I go to 2 different branches, depending what I have to do during the day. I get charged differently for posting the same thing! For example, I posted a postcard back home for Rp 3000 at the post office near S and FY's place a few weeks back. Today, a postcard back home cost me Rp 4500. And then, I got charged Rp 4000/postcard at the post office at the university last week. When I tried to ask about it (with my inadequate language skills), they got impatient (there were lots of other people sending stuff at the office) and told me that it was the normal rate. =\
It's in the same city, kan?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Take Care

This is what I meant when I said the traffic was scary -


In Indonesia, when people say goodbye, they often add "Hati-hati!", which means be careful/take care.

Ever since Therese and I fell off the bus on two separate occasions, we learnt the hard way that Indonesians don't just say "hati-hati" for nothing.

On MSN too, along with their goodbyes they type "TTDJ", which means "HaTi HaTi Di Jalan" (Take care on the road).

Take care indeed! Because the traffic is so scary it can kill you.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

People who Stand Out.

Last night, while returning home on Transjogja (the public buses which run till 10pm) from S and FY's place, I saw 4 transvestites. I wasn't sure if they had the whole transformation (so that even their genitals are of a female's, but they had boobs all right), but they were... strange.

Indonesian society is not conservative - in fact, it's probably one of the most liberal in Southeast Asia, after the Philippines. The art fair at Taman Budaya says it all. The art pieces were anti-Christianity, anti-American, but yet they got shown anyway. The government after Suharto's reign is trying to show Indonesians that in order to be an advanced society, many different views would have to be entertained (read it in one of the academic papers I brought over) and allowed some air time. There's also this whole discussion if wearing the headscarf limits or frees a woman. To some, the headscarf is a symbol of the old world which was governed by old traditions of Islam. However, to others, wearing the headscarf is a sign that the person has been enlightened by the ways of Islam and understands more about the religion. In other words, this woman is a well-educated woman who fully understands the meaning of being a Muslim. Many women here go through some inner searching before they don the headscarf, unlike in Malaysia where there is an unspoken rule for Muslim women to wear them(?).

So, even though people thought that the transvestites were an eyesore, nobody said anything since it's a free world. They were talking loudly while the rest of the people in the shelter averted their eyes or turned away from them - because it's rude to stare, you see. One of them had an over-puffed up lip, like a botox operation went wrong. Another of them had gorgeous boobs - it swelled beautifully above her low neckline. Other transvestites passed by the bus stop and stopped to talk to their friends.

Transjogja bus stops are elevated above the ground level so people had to ascend a slope to pay in order to get into a bus stop. Trips are Rp3.000, no matter the number of bus transfers and the time spent on the route. A person can take the bus to anywhere for a whole day without getting out of the bus stop for Rp3.000.

So anyway, in passing, one of those transvestites reached out to try to touch the genitals of this (maybe) 17-year-old male who was standing at the entrance of the bus stop. The boy merely moved out of her reach and said nothing while she laughed and walked away.
I can't imagine that happening in conservative Singapore.

In Indonesia where the Javanese culture teaches that a person should not stand out from the other Javanese, what circumstances have made these girls want to stand out so much?

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Pollutants and Chipped Pavements.

The air here is super polluted. Everyday after I come back from school/wherever, I find stuff in my piece of tissue paper when I blow my nose. Clouds of exhaust (visible dust particles) float up from exhaust pipes. People here can use bensin, the same unfiltered stuff found along the streets of Phnom Penh. Filters are not fitted onto exhaust pipes and the public transport system is terrible - thus everybody gets around using motorcycles. Many people do this.

The thing about Yogyakarta is that it is also walker-unfriendly. The pavements are uneven and at every corner, becak guys ask if I need a (overpriced) ride to somewhere. It's either the becak guys, the busboys or the taxi drivers. Also, the sun is scorchingly hot, but I will don a cap when it gets too hot for me. Nobody seems to believe that I decided to walk because I wanted to look closer at each shop that will pass unnoticed if I was on some sort of transport. How does one see a city in a car? A city is best seen on foot. I probably also need to get some exercise after my meal.

The pair of shoes I brought over from Singapore is almost worn out now and I already have another (sturdier) pair waiting in the wings. That's from stepping on the stubble along the streets from the chipped pavements - there's really too many to avoid. I'll thank my lucky stars that I don't kick any of those stones while walking (and I can walk very quickly). Unlike in Cambodia, people should wear shoes here because of these stones on the pavement.

Clothes are surprisingly expensive in Yogyakarta. I found out too late today. A top is probably around the same price as in Singapore, maybe SLIGHTLY cheaper. One of my teachers says she does not buy clothes here, but in Jakarta. Shalina says Bandung is the place to shop as all the factory outlets are there. I think a plan to go there in late November might be in order (after our papers are due). However, Yogyakarta is the place for batik. YAY! I love BATIK to death.

Cultural Goodies

One of Yogyakarta's popular aliases is the Cultural Capital of Indonesia. It's not hard to figure out why when you take into account not only the number of cultural performances and exhibitions going on but the fact that a large number of them are free!

Here are a few places I've found that offer free performances (although sometimes you might need to pay an entrance fee for the venue - but not the performance itself)

1. Kraton - entrance fee 12, 500 RP (Sultan's Palace near Jl. Malioboro)

Karawitan - Monday and Tuesday from 10 a.m. to noon.
Wayang Golek - Wednesday 10 a.m. to nooon.
Gamelan and Classical Javanese music - Thursday 10 a.m. to noon.
Macapat - Friday 10 a.m. to noon
Wayang kulit - Saturday 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

2. RRI (Radio Republik Indonesia)

Look out for banners with information on free concerts ranging from classical Western music to rock to traditional Javanese music. RRI is located along Jalan Gejayan. Bus number 7 from outside PSSAT (Pusat Studi Sosial Asia Tenggara) will drop you off directly opposite.

3. Taman Budaya (near Jl. Malioboro)

Taman Budaya can be 'friended' on facebook for regular updates on events and performances that are playing at their venue. Many of these are free (or "gratis" as they say in Indonesia) or not very expensive at all.

4. Institut Seni Indonesia (ISI)

ISI is kind of far if you live near Jogja City, which is a pity because nearly every day of the week there is something going on there. Performances, practices, run throughs, classes, masterclasses...and the students and faculty members are so friendly they will let you hang out there and observe things all day long.

5. UGM Campus

UGM has many budding musicians as well primarily from "Fakulitas Ilmu Budaya" or the Faculty of Cultural Sciences. They often put on performances and it is worth taking a trip down to their faculty and looking out for posters and banners for details. If you're feeling brave, say hello to a stranger and ask them if they know of any! Students at UGM are generally very happy to speak to exchange students and help them out in any way possible.

...and of course if you feel like supporting the local arts scene in a more substantial way, there is no shortage of non-gratis performances. Sometimes there are also student discounts so remember to bring your UGM student ID card with you. :)

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

An Interesting Read.

While looking online for the price of a motorcycle helmet in Yogyakarta (just wanted to buy a couple back to Singapore for fun), I stumbled upon this series of blog entries written by a Caucasian man in 1998, during the time of the riots against the Chinese.


He converted to Islam to marry a Muslim woman, and these entries have pictures of Solo and, more importantly, of Yogyakarta during 1998. From the few pictures there, it's clearly seen that Yogyakarta has changed significantly since then. Jalan Gejayan has more buildings along it now.

He also details his experience getting married to a Muslim woman (being a Caucasian man with no family ties in Indonesia!) and the things he had to do to get her father's agreement.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Advertising in Yogyakarta.

I was on the main street today waiting for the bus to school to arrive as usual, when this woman approached me with a flyer.
It was about the new motorcycle shop which opened recently, and the flyer was to increase awareness of the place. It's hard to ignore it when it's the new-looking building right smack in the middle of a street of old-looking buildings.

This teenage girl smiled at me, and told me (while handing me the flyer) about the motorcycle shop (full of Yamaha motorcycles). She proceeded to ask for my name, handphone number and address. I gave my name (I gave her my middle name) and address (I didn't even give my full address - I just pointed down my street and said I live at no 4), but not my number.

After that encounter, a lorry with a Yamaha motorcycle strapped at the back drove slowly past. There was a loudhailer on top of the lorry, and the person behind the loudhailer was announcing the presence of the new Yamaha motorcycle shop.

Talk about extreme advertising.
In just 5 minutes, there were flyers, a public event (the lorry's display of the motorcycle) and the gathering of information from potential customers.
I don't know whether to be impressed, because as the consumer, these actions are irritating. However, as a person who has been trained to market products to a certain group of people, this is very efficient.

That is in addition to all the billboards that are on the street. I think it's a case of information overload.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

It's Ramadhan!

The Muslim season of fasting is different in Singapore and in Indonesia.
In Singapore, everyone else goes on doing their own business while the Muslims avoid the canteen altogether and hang out in the library. However, in Indonesia, where 90% (or something around that number) of the world's Muslims are, Ramadhan is a different ball game altogether.

I'm lucky that the woman in charge of my rumah kos is Christian and therefore, I don't have to tiptoe around in her kitchen while making breakfast (my usual fare of oatmeal) after waking up late. They were having breakfast (lunch?) at 10am, and they had steak, fries and broccoli. Hardly fare fit for the fasting month. I was confused about her religion because she had Islamic writings hung on her walls. I'm not sure why they are there, but I can probably venture a guess. It's probably related to pacifying the local Muslim spirits(?). In Malaysia, some people believe that the spirits residing in the parcels of land from an ancient time, and Chinese and Indians pay respects to them by leaving offerings at roadside shrines for statues dressed in Malay clothes. (Prof. GBL, 2005) I'll probably ask Ibu Agus when my language skills becomes better and when I've been here longer.

I had lunch with Feng Yi at a restaurant because most of the warungs were closed till 4pm. This was the same restaurant I had lunch at when I first arrived in Yogyakarta 2 weeks ago. 2 weeks ago, I spent about Rp18.000 for tahu telor (tofu fried with egg), a bowl of vegetables in soup, 1 serving of rice and 1 chicken drumstick. Today, I paid Rp30.000 for about the same amount of food.

I'm not sure what extra food I ordered, but surely, it's not that much, is it?
FY reckons that food prices during lunch may have increased during Ramadhan to accomodate the fact that less people will come to eat lunch during Ramadhan. But the menu seems to look the same. I'm still confused.

"Bukan ayam goreng biasa" (Not the usual fried chicken), the sign outside the restaurant says. Then about 100 metres down, I see another sign from a steak house which says "Bukan sapi biasa".
Copyright is another problem here. As long as the phrase is catchy enough, people will use it without acknowledging where it came from. Also, along my street (Jalan Kaliurang), I see shops which provide proofreading services for undergraduate thesis. Shalina thinks that it actually means that the people in those shops might actually do the papers for the undergraduates. This is especially scary since Kaliurang is the street next to the UGM campus, and UGM is the oldest university (and very high-ranking) in Indonesia.

I'm hoping that only a few desperate undergraduates actually use these shops to graduate.