Tuesday, 9 June 2020

1992 Indonesia II: Yogyakarta, Solo, Jakarta

30.6.92 Yogyakarta

Well, he came.  Smaller than I remembered him, much, much thinner, but the same bright eyes.  Obviously the disease has affected him greatly.  But that he was struck down is no surprise given the pace at which he was active.  His comments indicated that they accelerated, if anything – 27 performances a week, directing many groups.

Now there are only two wayang kulits regularly on show, including his, although he said that there are hundreds of dalangs.  He now had two assistants to help – though he found it hard to find some that could speak English – a prerequisite these days.  Despite his illness, he was off to Australia in the autumn for a month-long tour of his puppetry – just three or four of them.  He also hoped to take a gamelan of 30 odd to Japan later.  Travelling abroad was always one of his ambitions.  His office was now at home – with phone and fax – the same place I visited before.

During all this, and for some time before, the wayang kulit was rattling away – part 45, no less.  It was all wonderfully familiar: the tiny gamelan, the Yggdrasil-like tree of the world, the characters placed one by one against the screen, and above all, the wonderful wavering light of the carefully-tended flame that threw the shadows with the puppets.  The wonderful battles with arrows flying away – and the dalang's hammer, those strange punctuations…  It was good to see Wayan again, and was a nice rounding off of this second trip here.  I hope that I can build on this for future visits.

The day had been a long. Lazy one – which began with a fine rainstorm.  Clouds brooded over the sunrise, but by 10am the sky was clear and fiery.  We lounged on the beach near Bali Beach – and were the objects of local curiosity.  The bit bit: people wanted to have photos taken of them posing with us.  We could hardly refuse, but it was a nice spin on things.

Along to the Sanur Market restaurant for a drink and to grab some loungers.  Lunch there too, and otherwise a general roasting.  Alas, the sea progressively disappeared even though it started out very high on the beach.  Both of us now have solid tans without burning.  Then along to La Taverna for a final tea, the wind cracking as ever.  

Now sitting in Yogyakarta's Hotel Garuda [today's Grand Inna Malioboro], the main entrance hall – fine over-the-top 30s stuff.  And before us, the inevitable gleaming gamelan – translocated here after 30 minutes in the bar area.  We have just listened to a couple of pieces played by a six-piece gamelan band – including a woman.  The first a very delicate, subtly-shifting piece – notably more refined/restrained than the Balinese style.  They have now begun the slowest, saddest gamelan music I have ever heard – with a strange, almost pizzicato effect of drum beats and low gong stopped quickly.  Interesting that the kettles are used more melodically – filling in the "leaves" of the branches played by the metallophones.  A real gamelan of real musicians: they have their music with them, and seem to argue for ages (a dragonfly enters – a symbol of ancient Java…?).  The occasional keening voice of a musician moved to song.  The gamelan shining like gold – not your usual bashed-about workaday Bali gamelan – this is a court job…

We arrive five minutes after we left Denpasar – thanks to one hour's time difference – with volcanoes to the north of us.  By taxi into Yogyakarta – even more insane driving – trying to find the office of the tourist agency.  The taxi driver took ages to find the address – which turned out to be a language school.  In any case, it seemed easy to go straight to the hotel – which was nearby.  Very large and grand – as were the prices as I discovered, to my horror - $150 for full board, $106 for room only.  These were not the figures I recalled, and so decided to ring the travel office.  The man there confirmed a better price - $46 – which seemed too good to be true – but later his assistant came round and took this sum per day.  Extraordinary: perhaps I have learnt something about booking flash hotels, at least in Indonesia.  Travel agencies seem to be able to get a far better price than I can.  Perhaps I should try this elsewhere…

So the room being sorted out most satisfactorily, we rest a little, and then venture into Yogyakarta.  Into an oven.  The hotel is freezing, and you forget completely that it is 30 degrees outside – liquid heat.  Down the main street – very attractive for all its obvious squalor.  Lots of pedicabs.  Lots of motorcycles – neatly parked by the parking attendants.  We walk through all this – on the way to the tourist centre – and meet this helpful chap who tells us it is closed for the moment – for an hour.  But that we are lucky because today is the last day of a batik exhibition of the government school.  He directs us down a tiny side alley – which makes me dubious, but not dubious enough.  

We find the place, and a nice enough chap invites us to see the "exhibition" – gives us cups of tea, and the usual spiel.  Some looked quite nice – but fortunately I didn't really want any batik, so I was unmoved by his "special" discounts".  He was good – too good.  He hung up batik in the doorway to make exit hard – physically and morally.  He asked us which were our "favourite" pieces, and finally, asked me to put down my prices – whatever they were.  Luckily, they were outrageously low and even he was unable to accept them.  Reluctantly, he let us go.  Later, in the tourist office, we read a warning about a similar scam practised on others.  I am still impressed at how good it was – and how nearly taken in I was.

Before we finally found the tourist office, we walked down to the beginning of the kraton, past the market with all its varied wares.  Then finally back to the very helpful office who gave us a map and advice on concerts.  One of these I had already booked at the airport: the famous "Ramayana" epic.  It is held outdoors only at full moon, and we are lucky to be here then.  We are going on Saturday, the second night which The Book says is the most dramatic.

We were also searching for a restaurant – "Legian" – which was supposed to be pleasant with its rooftop garden.  Well, yes, ish, but unfortunately next to a building site and a snooker hall.  The service was – well, non-existent.  But I did eat my first jackfruit: a strange bright yellow rubbery thing, very sweet, slightly scented.  This can now be added to my collection of salaks, mangosteens and rambutans.  Only really durians to go… so to speak.

And then back to here.  Lovely zither-type part in this piece: again, very melancholy, very gentle – just the contrast I was hoping for with Bali…. Yogyakarta impresses so far, a feeling of a real city, not so alien as Jakarta.  And the promise of the kraton

1.7.92 Yogyakarta

After a deep night's sleep, up to a breakfast surrounded by conventioners.  Ringing travel agents to try to fix flight to Jakarta from here, say on three more nights.  Then out by pedicab, a long pleasant wheel down Jalan Maliaboro – still feeling a little guilty about the poverty of the peddler – a circuitous route because of the one-way system.

Only 1000 Rp. to get an entrance ticket, for which we receive a personal, rather pretty, lady guide.  The kraton very airy and spacious, many trees, open pavilions.  Some from 18th century – when sultanate was founded.  Now up to number 10 of the sultans, all (?) with the same name – very Javanese (which I find from our guide is mutually incomprehensible to other islanders – Balinese etc.)  

The gamelan has begun: very slow, clangorous, quite harsh in its tuning (a baby girl almost dancing to it).  It dates from 200 years ago; behind me is one from many centuries earlier.  Behind the players is a board with numbers: their score for something.  They look (the Javanese generally) strangely insect-like – their faces flat and angular, their eyes, often magnified by glasses, very convex.  The chittering of birds above us, very high frequencies.  Pictures, photos of the past, family trees, old gifts, palanquins, worlds within worlds.  The old guard, paid 1000 Rp. per month, dressed in blue, tiny, desiccated little men.  The list of palace telephone numbers headed by the Sultan's.  

Then to here, almost 15 players including one woman, all over 50ish.  Gamelan really moving now, crotchet beat 120 per minute.  Long piece – 30 minutes or more.  Now people (the players) are lighting up fags, their tea has come…  The singers have now arrived, mostly women – with one occidental (Dutch-looking?).  The piece begins: men's voices plus rebab.  It stops, then the women.  Because the basic speed is so much slower, the metallophone players use two hammers, and damp with the lower fingers, instead of one hammer, as in Bali.

2.7.92 Yogyakarta

Just back from Borobudur.  More of that later.  First, yesterday.  After a long, cultural morning at the kraton, to the hotel – and to the pool, which is empty and rather pleasant.  Then lunch beside it, a lie in the sun – the place all to ourselves.  Then by pedicab down Jalan Malioboro to the bird market.  A tiny maze, a warren of huts and shacks full of feathered, furry and other creatures (including monkeys, damn 'em).  Also, a mound seething with ants and their eggs – feed for the birds.

We are taken up to look at the ruins of the sultan's old palace and baths – now filled in with shanty housings.  Taken by someone who claimed to be one of the gamelan players at the kraton.  And who wanted no money for his guiding – but did, it turned out, just happen to have a batik gallery…  Though it must be said that the prices were far lower than the other lot con men.

Then a long, slow walk back to the hotel – near the bird market quite poor.  Strange purple house – opticians – nearby, then past the kraton to Maliaboro.  Crossing the road a real achievement here.  A walk up Malioboro – the Javanese names very distinctive.  Like Varanasi etc., the same stalls/goods repeated endlessly.  Tempted by the stamps hereabouts.  To the hotel, where we gorge on various fruits – salaks, pineapples, sawo.  Then downstairs for an unsatisfactory dinner.  To bed early – up early for Borobudur…

Breakfast – far too expensive in the hotel, we must try elsewhere – then away at 8am in a taxi, for 36K Rp.  One hour there, through really verdant fields, quite Balinese – bullocks ploughing, passing a few salak plantations, with roadside stalls – so many of them: how do they all survive?

To Mendut first, a rather beautiful small temple set beside a huge tree.  Inside, a Buddha, his hands in some unfathomably calm and intricate position – and, unusually, his legs down, sitting Western-style.  The heat appreciable as we leave the aircon car.  Then on to Candi Pawar, even smaller, quite out of the way – no other tourists, desperate souvenir sellers – but empty, so rather little to see.

And so to Borobudur.  Huge mass of cars and coaches, drinks stalls, hat sellers, guides etc. etc.  This is probably the most important archaeological site in Java, and the school holidays are on, so half the Indonesian world is here.  Complicated queuing for tickets: entry only, plus a fee for cameras, plus a fee for toilets, certificates, etc. etc.  In, then a walk up.  Massive on the brow of the hill, a lovely granitic grey, as at Mendut.

We ascend one level, and then walk around the outside.  Up a level, and the same.  Most pour straight to the top.  Amazing profusion of figures – how many tens of thousands here?  Some quite striking, others more hermetic.  Peaceful just walking around, surrounded by Buddhas, some headless.  Then finally up the steep steps to the top.  Masses of people.  Makes me think of the stupa at Kathmandu – the lovely white form high on a hill.  Ah, Nepal…

Very hot at the monument.  A haze hung over the surrounding hills – wild and craggy, almost Cumbrian, but the coconut trees gave the game away…. Good to be back in the car, heading for "home".  Salaks: one kilo for 4500 Rp. - three times what we paid in Lombok.  

Back here, shower, then out, to look at the restaurants nearby.  Into Gang I – amazing collection of losmen, batik galleries, and restaurants.  We chose Superman II – quite nicely atmospheric, the odd bit of US paraphernalia.  TV on, Indonesian subtitles.  Prices very cheap – or reasonable, rather.  Portions good.  The presence of a mouse running around does not inspire confidence in the cleanliness, though.  Place full of Westerners.  Two of them, although obviously not together, have the same legend on the t-shirt: "Tin-tin in Tibet".

Afterwards along to the railway station, which we enter across the tracks ("è vietato attraversare i binari"), to the information desk.  The trains packed to the gunwales, which puts us off, even though it is a mere 2000 Rp. to Solo...

One thing we learnt in Superman's – and applied just now in Legian's – is that the service improves enormously if you use the little order pads they leave on your table – our faux pas in Legian's the day before yesterday.  Tonight service much better – and food too.  My fish in curried coconut sauce excellent.  Legian's attractive with the bustle of night-time Yogyakarta below.  Along Malioboro, little warungs spring up, with low tables and cross-legged guests.  At one, a lone zither players plucks and keens away.  Magic.

3.7.92 Yogyakarta

Breakfast at Superman's I (the old one, as the menu says) after a gitfiddly night – I was forced to lie all over the place, to no avail.  Up late, and did a few exercises in a desperate attempt to keep fit (ish).  Then housekeeping matters.  (Breakfast was large, but little things niggled: the ants trapped inside the sugar container, which was sealed.  The cup less than clean.  But our guts are getting stronger so perhaps we'll survive…).  Change money, then try to get tickets back home confirmed.  Hotel proves incapable, so we take pedicab to the Garuda office – 1500 Rp. there and back – very circuitous there, zigzagging in and out of the early rush-hour traffic.  

Then back, and with the same bloke to Nitan for their wayang golek show – 1500 Rp. each.  Through to a tiny classroom-type space – high room, painted (chipped) wall, bulbless light in the ceiling, comfy chairs.  And in one half the stage and gamelan.  11 players in all, mostly women.  Pentatonic gamelan – less interesting than the hotel's tuning, but the performance had a homely, real feel to it.  The two women singers had rather weak but touching voices, the metallophone player (lead) doubled on the odd bit of flute.  The drummer slept on his instrument half the time.

But the star was, as ever, the dalang.  A dessicated chap in his late 40s, 50s, nothing to look at, his voice rich and quite powerful, his whole being came alive as he told the story of Hanuman from the Ramayana.  As well as the gently swaying gamelan, there was the knocking as before in the kulit, but also a deafening crashing of metal used in the battle sequences.  These proved worse than in old American Westerns – huge, improbable, boring exchanges of blows – all punctuated by this smashing.  For ages, I tried to see who made it.  As we left – alas, early, as the ears were really ringing now – we could see it was indeed the dalang, skilfully using his feet as he used both hands with puppets and sang/narrated.  The usual cups of tea and the odd fag during the performance.  The puppets themselves were graceful in their movements, especially the hands, and the flicking of a long scarf (also two women singers had special scarves – over the neck down around the waist – put on as they sat down).  But the bloody battles…

Back to the hotel for a quick bit of civilised gamelan, then to Old Superman's.  A huge meal for 9K Rp. Seemed really good.  While we were there, a tropical storm broke out, beating down on the tin roof.  Real heavy stuff.  I was forced to order more food (a pancake for 600 Rp.) and watch Sesame Street subtitled in Indonesian (they seem to use the neat notation "anak2" = anak-anak…)  During a respite, we dash out, only to be trapped in a covered area opposite the hotel.  Water flooding everywhere.  Finally make it across.  

Back with "our" gamelan – this time in the freezing hall by the bar.  In some ways, I prefer this one – especially the biggest tam-tam – a totally beautiful resonance.  Last night in "Legian", we were there at the hour of the muezzin.  Which by chance was in exactly the same key as some sub-Beach Boy pop playing as muzak.  So with the ululations of the priest against the three-chord harmonies we heard the most delicious post-modern rap imaginable, full of exquisite unresolved sevenths.

Last gamelan piece beautiful: approximately G Bb C F G Bb F |G E F C G E F C|… but with notes out of boring well-tempered scales.

In Superman (Old) this afternoon, there was a group of Frenchies, and a few others.  A peaceable buzz hung over the proceedings as the rain beat down outside.  In the dark, cramped kitchen the cooks bustled away producing their (apparent) miracles of good value.  The fans turned, but to little effect.  Mosquitoes and flies buzzed.

I wonder how long this gamelan, and wayang kulit/wong/golek tradition will survive in such a naturalness until, like Morris dancing, it becomes the weekend preserve of chartered surveyors…  They are now playing a rather jolly, nay, inane, tune, that sounds like some ad-jingle – quite un-Javanese.  Next piece: lots of seventh/octave clashes – very Brittenesque in a crazy sort of way…  Now very ceremonial – could be because some convention group (?) has just arrived, and is now having flowers thrown at them…  Good sturdy piece – and was that a dotted rhythm creeping in there…?  Back to the jolly, inane one – surely enough of this one, boys…?

To Legian restaurant for dinner.  Light rain falling, but the city still a-bustle.  The background music now gamelan, then a female singer – my Sundanese CD? Unfortunately this rather clashes with the muezzin.  

Next to the train station, a radio station – complete with a 100-foot aerial…

4.7.92 Yogyakarta

Behind me the floodlit "Slender Virgin" and associated temples at Prambanan.  Bats swooping, crickets shrilling.  We are outside the theatre, hoping that the rain holds off.  The thin crescent of the moon is overhead.  A lazy day around the pool – too lazy, since I stupidly seem to have burnt myself.  I never learn.  Breakfast and lunch at Superman (Old), which continues to serve us well.  Then out to here at 4.30pm, to see the temple.  We agree that thought Borobudur is grander, this is the most beautiful.  The form of the temples is extraordinary, like a frozen tree in stone.  But close up, the fine detail is like Borobudur – amazing given the scale.

In our "VIP" seats in the open air theatre – impressive sight.  The gamelan stretched out across the stage, and behind it all three grey-white temples,  slightly misty in the distance.  We have come to see the second night, supposed to be the most spectacular – and by happy chance it turns out to be the same story as the kecak dance and the wayang golek play.  So we know the plot pretty well now, and the comparisons of the different stylistic conventions should be fascinating.  Bats swooping in the floodlights.  A strange chinking sound from behind the scenes – bells on the dancers, I guess.

5.7.92 Yogyakarta

Certainly was.  Perhaps rather too many bells, but then the hallmark of last night was excess.  As such, in all its grandeur and spectacle, it formed a poignant contrast with the wayang golek – the same story, as I mentioned.  In the latter, I was very struck by the sheer authenticity of it all: the old women playing the gamelan, the fag-sucking dalang, the crummy surroundings.  Last night was almost too slick: the staging, the lighting, the seats – also the constant shock of the temples behind served to bring us back to the world of magic.

And what magic.  When the lights went down from time to time, there they stood: amazing arrows into eternity.  Or like the gorgeous headdresses of a queen and two princesses, rising behind the stage.  We both felt the ancient, sacred roots of this drama – I almost forgot it was a gamelan, and heard instead just an ancient music – Greek perhaps, or Hindu.  Most memorable was the principal male characters – who looked strikingly like Timothy Dalton.  There was a real grace but power too to his hand gestures.  For the rest, the monkey business, so to speak, was all good fun, but I couldn't help preferring the women.  The gamelan very subdued compared to the Balinese variety. I begin to understand the relative positions of Bali and Java and Indonesia a little better.

I omitted to describe some of the fun and games we had before the show – my fault.  We had gone early to look at the temples, just a little before they closed. This had the advantage that there were relatively few people there.  The disadvantage was that it was dusk, and dusk means darkness very quickly.  Fine – except that I, stupidly enough, insisted on walking over to the theatre to obtain our tickets, which were only a voucher – bought at the airport.  The walk there, as in all walks in third-world countries, turned out to be huge.  

We then had to go even further back to fetch the taxi.  We arrived at the entrance as it was closing.  By then we were using touch to find where we were going.  Difficult to find the taxi, too – as it was in Borobudur.  Then round to the theatre, to the café for a quick tea and pancake. The temples floodlit behind us.  The walks/runs could have been romantic with the thin sliver of a moon above, and the old crickets chirping away; but my paranoia rather spoilt things.

So to today.  Now in the Gereja Katolik Santo Antonius Padua, near the hotel.  Taxi here – heavy rain now, though easing slightly.  75 Rp. for the order of service – a few words comprehensible: "saya percaya".  Inside, the church (Catholic) looks vaguely evangelical – probably on account of its bright murals, portraying some distinctly Indonesian-looking disciples, and the odd figure from other mythologies, it seems.  The service has begun – all in Bahasa Indonesia, of course…  Female choirmaster.  Priest looks Western.

Church experience hot and sweaty.  Sad that only during the communion was any gamelan-type sound used.  Elsewhere, sub-euro stuff.  I also disliked the priest's very nasal sound in Indonesian.  Made him sound like the Jesuit missionary he probably was: colonising.  Interesting the relationship between religious imperialism and the learning of new languages.  Surely to really learn the language you have to enter the culture…

Anyway, this morning out to the other kraton.  Closed when we get there, but the "guide"/curator turns up as we leave, so it is now open.  A wonderful old cove, toothless, here to practise his "King's English" as he calls it.  Tells tale of this little kingdom within a kingdom, shows us mildly interesting exhibits of the museum (us its first visitors since about a week ago).  Outside, we see the prince's son's radio station – laudably broadcasting ancient Javanese songs et al.  The main reception hall grand, spacious – and full of furniture – as if the the lack of walls and enormous space were an optical illusion.  The gamelan nearby, rather sad and decrepit.  Past the cannon (18th century), past the lilies, then to the other kraton for the classical dancing.

We arrived there late: bad move.  Obviously the dancing was on the tourist list – full, practically.  But worse, these were the real, insensitive, camera-toting kind of tourists.  They omitted to remove their shoes, covered the entrance in dirt, and blocked the entrances as the poor dancers came in.  The latter were excellent, especially two women playing two princes (?).  The music was quite different at times, much more "filled-in", more Balinese, but without the angular rhythm of that style.  The women's faces quite different from the rounded Balinese women's.

Back in the hotel, gamelan nearby – but without gongs.  Waiting for tea.  

6.7.92 Yogyakarta

An indulgent lunch at the hotel: club sandwiches – absolutely excellent, even if outrageously expensive: 20K Rp. for two of them, plus two cakes – enough for two evening meals at Superman's.  Also, of course, there is the gamelan.  One of the nice things about staying here for a while is that you can get to hear the same piece several times.  And "ours" is certainly a very sweet, relaxing gamelan – especially the big gongs.  Their absence was really felt last night.  In the last piece we have just heard, they were used almost every beat.  And that final deep gong: bong – ah!  As I write, I can hear them distantly.  And today, too, the woman is back, with her nasal voice that sounds so distant, no matter how near it is.  I wonder what she is singing about…

Up after a long, long jejune (sic) sleep, to Superman's, then a stroll down Malioboro, looking at the stalls.  We cal in at Jaya Tours for details on their Dieng Plateau trip – only 15K Rp. each, but maybe too far away.  Then down to the kraton – after taking in the fruit market for sirsats/soursops – only to be told that we are too early in the season.  Past the market we see a young-ish naked man sprawled on the ground by the side of the road.  What can you do? All – or nothing.

On to the museum near the kraton – closed – perhaps for a holiday.  To the kraton (and for a carton of sirsat juice – sweet and fragrant – but representative?). Then to the gamelan.  Nice to return, that feeling of familiarity.  But today, inevitably perhaps, less good than the first time.  They seemed careless/lacklustre.  Even so, the first piece was beautiful: "the sound of rain" it seemed, slow notes with faster in-fills.  Today, the other tourists away, but also tiny leaping ants drive us nuts.  The singers arrive – including the Westerner, who turns out to be an American – as revealed to a gawky, epicene youth, also American, in the audience who says he is "studying gamelan". She is "sort of" studying singing.  But four women are not really up to it today, and the time beater – the chain master – must help.  Still, a quintessential sort of experience.  Then haggle with various becak drivers to here and sandwiches.

7.7.92 Yogyakarta

Down by the hotel gamelan for lunch again.  But the current piece is pure Debussy – "La cathédrale engloutie ", with touches of "Pelléas et Mélisande" in the two intertwined voices.  And of course it was a Javanese gamelan that Claude heard back in the 1889.  The music floats sinuously, as if it could go on forever – which it probably could.  As with the gamelan yesterday, so it was with the club sandwich: never as good the second time around.  But still worth it for the music…

A lazy morning round the pool – me being far more sensible this time – plenty of lotion.  Blistering heat, and little wind, so we are soon both dripping.  Today, before the clouds rolled in at noon, amazingly clear – all the volcanoes that ring us frighteningly visible.  Volcanoes are so much steeper than mountains, and so more worrying.  

8.7.92 Yogyakarta

Going Solo, or: Desperately Seeking Gamelan.  A rather different, rather frustrating day, but back now in the hotel.

Up late-ish, then a taxi out to Solo/Surakarta.  72K Rp. But silly not to see it, being so near – the 1st Law of Tourism…?  So, out via Prambanan.  First problem: the aircon is feeble in the car, and we are soon gasping for air.  The atmosphere incredibly clear, so Mount Merapi is terrifyingly real and close, wisps of cloud caught on the summit.  As we progress through the ultra-green fields, the other volcanoes behind being to swing round as we live the geography.  Only 60 km to Solo, but it take 90 minutes – average speed 40 km/h, surprising really.  Constant life/death stuff as our driver overtakes wildly.  They do not drive on their brakes here, but on their horns.  

So many bikes, motorcycles, bemos, becaks, buses, so many people.  The more I see of Indonesia, the more impressed I am at the achievement of forging this nation/continent from so many disparate peoples.  And the strange position of Bahasa Indonesia.  Its name for a start: Indos-nesos  "nesos" is Greek for "island" – it's not even indigenous.  As if all of Europe were to use English or Latin perhaps as lingua franca, and for signposts etc.  I have really felt the lack of the language this time, in my poor efforts to speak it.  I am also convinced how much more I could get from the land and the peoples were I able to speak it well.  Next time (I hope)…

So through the seemingly unending towns until we reach the outskirts of Solo – which are themselves unending.  Like India, the country exhausts with its repetitive nature, everything seen five, ten times.  Interesting to note that the spelling "centre" beats "center" here in shop names, and "colour" is pretty popular as well.  And everywhere Suzuki and other japanese brands – but not m any Japanese tourists evident.  Nor Westerners for that matter – even fewer in Solo, which is a pleasant-looking city.

We get taken to the "other" kraton first – I want the "main",  Surakarta one.  We drive briefly through it – and out – a mistake as it turns out.  Then to the main one.  As we enter we are given strange ties to put round our necks.  The guide we "have" is not really very helpful.  We wander through with another three people: an American, his Indonesian wife, and their daughter.  Inside the kraton it is more attractive than Yogya's with glowing trees by the main hall.  A dancing practice – two beautiful, slender young women, and a young man – the son of the Sultan, it turns out.  We decline to have our photos taken with them.  To the museum, which is like every other kraton museum – and god knows we've seen a few.  Carriages, family trees, pictures, krises etc.  But the usual pleasant air of desuetude over it all.

Then to the "other" kraton.  Where it turns out that the gamelan was/is playing.  As we pass the main hall with out guide, they strike up, a wonderful soft sound, with suling and women's voices.  We see mikes and radio people: it is being broadcast on Javanese radio.  We hesitate whether to offend the guide by jettisoning her, or to see the tour and come back.  I ask when the gamelan plays until; she says 3 o'clock, so we follow her.

The kraton is the best we've seen, alive and lived-in.  Curious exhibits.  Chastity cover and penis sheath for the man – with spikes.  A glorious, lush garden.  As we emerge – inevitably – the gamelan has just finished, the radio packing up, the singers and players are eating the food we had noted left out for them.  So that one brief snatch of perfect Solonese gamelan was just a tantalisation.  But it reminded me of other moments – after "The Muses' Concert" performance of "Carmina Burana" that I organised – the empty hall, still ringing infinitesimally, somehow.  And for us, too, that distant gamelan was there in the background, almost heard.  Reminded me too of sitting beneath the Acropolis, drinking retsina at dusk, sad at heart but relishing the melancholy in a perverse, Moodian way.

So, out, to the Triwindu market.  At first a disappointment, but then through that green door, and suddenly we are in an Aladdin's Cave of bric-à-brac, tiny sheds packed with furniture – marble-top tables for 20K Rp. - wayang kulit/gorek – bronze statues, china, lamps, all kinds of everything.  How do these place survive?  Who buys from them?  God knows that there are few enough tourists around.  Perhaps it just exists for its own perfection.  On the way back from here, we see an old building with "Cavalry and Artillery" in Dutch on it.

Then to the Kusuma Sahid Prince Hotel for lunch – very smart, very empty.  Excellent lunch – chicken with a stewed jack fruit, which I recognise from the other night at Hotel Garuda – but this is better.  Hotel looks reasonable – normal rate $60 – perhaps less, really.  But there were signs of a mega-convention arriving, so perhaps best not to be there for the next couple of days, even though it would have been quite nice to see Solo more – and to hear the gamelan.

We made another valiant attempt.  ASKI – the academy for performing arts – was supposed to hold practices from 2 until 4pm.  They had moved, and our taxi-driver had no idea how to get there, so I ended up directing him.  We finally track it down – miles away to the east.  And find the gamelan, huge and beautiful – and silent.  It seemed – as far as I could tell with my broken Indonesian – that they had already played today.  Pity.  So the day proved rather unsuccessful for gamelans, but worth it nonetheless.  Even got a 10% discount because of the lousy aircon.  Petty perhaps, but it has to be done.

Back here, more problems with the room, which has a connecting door to another.  Before, kids, then a smoker – we could smell it.  Now lady American with a voice like a buzz-saw.  Beautiful sun tonight – Ra's red globe.

9.7.92 Yogyakarta

Forgot to mention one curious feature of Solo: its double-decker buses – mostly Volvos, but a few Leylands.  Delightful.

Lazy day.  Down Jalan Malioboro (bit like Boul Mich) – bought a cassette of Javanese gamelan, some batik stuff, and a couple of t-shirts.  Amazing variety here – some really weird, some strangely familiar – for example, an SPC software t-shirt.  All obviously rip-offs.  Then to the pool for an hour, then club sandwiches to the strain of a slightly evanescent gamelan.  The sound is so delicate – like that of a moth's wings.  The use of felt on the mallets instead of Balinese metal.  And the delicate quarter tones in the singing.  My Wayan/gamelan quest, as with my Satie quest in Paris, has helped focus my travelling.  I must use this again in the future.  It takes out the random, touristic part, and makes it more directed, though less guided in the other sense. 

Sitting in a restaurant, under the volcano – Merapi – which is apparently getting more active.  Christian's closed in 1988 – this is Vogel II.  Tea to come, then out.  Volcanoes are interesting, but from a distance.  At the bemo stop – felt very like Nepal – vegetation very different, very European, not tropical at all.  Here it feels very isolated, at the end of the world.  Yes, very peaceful – ironically, because a notice at the hotel warned that the volcano was more active than usual, erupting every 30 minutes.  I also overheard Christian (for it was he) say that the path to the crater was sometimes flooded with molten lava at the top.  

I wondered as we drank our odd, rather earthy-flavoured tea, what it felt like on a volcano immediately before an eruption.  Just like that, presumably… But at least we made it back to Yogyakarta, and leave tomorrow for Jakarta.  Sad to leave, to return to "normality", but also, as ever, excited by some of the things I hope to do. 

Gamelan players here in the hotel are silent – they stopped in the middle of a piece at lunchtime to strike up a jolly piece for new arrivals.  Certainly having a gamelan on tap has been a boon.  Interesting to note which way stripes go on ties here: seem slightly in favour of Brit style – diagonals falling from right to left, as viewed by the wearer.  Also "toilets" rather than "rest rooms".

Strange gamelan piece: ghostly sounds, augmented/diminished chords.  Quite unlike any other I've heard.  Almost spectral film music…

11.7.92 Jakarta

No yesterday – well, a day of unravelling.  The morning by the pool, soaking up the sun, then lunch and farewell to the gamelan.  Listening to Debussy and Ravel will definitely never be the same: on the way to airport in the hotel bus (late-ish, so in the smoking section, but nobody smoked on a plane full of families) I heard "Estampes" – and realised everything – the parallel fifths, fourths, low bass chords, swirls of sound – was Javanese gamelan

Nice flight to Jakarta – volcanoes like blisters on the landscape.  Long, slow ride to the Cipta hotel – rush-hour traffic diabolical, and how Jakarta goes on.  People selling water, papers, food, standing amidst traffic.  Hotel not bad: new, clean, better than the old Wisma Indra, it has to be said. Dinner good.

Then today.  Entering the strange last phase of a trip, waiting to return, not quite able to do anything new.  Also the return to Jakarta, scene of such anguish one month ago (really a month?).  Now, as we are well, it seems tamed.  We take a walk to the tourist office nearby, pick up a few leaflets, then take a taxi out to the orchid garden in the west.  Driver not really sure.  Finds the Orchid Palace Hotel – outside, sellers of lovely orchids.  Then an odyssey of backstreets past stinking rivers with bare-arsed kids defecating into them, juxtaposed with stunningly opulent houses.  In circles, nobody knows. Back to the hotel to ask directions – and then I notice the sign for the gardens – which seem not to exist.  

So on to Kota.  By now, our driver is a fool, and takes us to the National Museum near Merdaka Square.  I said Kota, and showed him on the map.  Up to Kota.  Huge, long journey – the road just never ends.  We pass Glodok, the Chinese sector, then finally up to Kota.  But our driver passes from fool to knave.  Instead of driving straight on, he turns left, and heads out past the river (stinking), and amazing shanty houses.  I say where we want, he says it is here.  Then, most remarkably, he simply does a U-turn, and backtracks all the way to the station at Kota.  The traffic at a crawl, so we rack up another 8K Rp. bill on top of the other mistakes.  I am fuming now.  At Kota, out of the car, and I throw 10K Rp. in his face.  I refuse to pay more.  He naturally remonstrates, a crowd gathers – what do you do?  Supposing he turns nasty?  Has a gun?  Do I care that much?  No – but equally, this bastard has literally taken us for a ride – and I refuse to pay all.  Eventually, another 5K Rp. gets rid of him.  I ought to report him – but with only 36 hours to go, I don't want the hassle.  So a minor victory, but perhaps a larger loss too.

We walk in the roaring heat up to Batavia's old village square.  Amazing to see the once neat town hall, very European.  Nearby in the Wayang Museum – devoid of visitors except us, but not devoid of charm.  Puppets from all over the world – looking strange and menacing gathered together like caged animals.  As in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, you could imagine them coming alive at night.  Puppets donated by M. Mitterrand (tacky) and the British ambassador – a Punch and Judy stage.  Various dusty gamelans everywhere.

Then to the History Museum – very dark and gloomy, all old dark furniture, 17th, 18th centuries, the odd cracked oil painting showing some plump burger.  Overall, a tremendous air of sadness, of things being out of place – of even the furniture feeling a long way from home in an alien country.  One strange thing: passing through from the entrance hall to the garden, there was a short, low passageway.  In it, a plaque, in Dutch, from a century or two ago.  And as I entered, I had a shudder of déjà vu

After this sad but interesting relic, others sadder and not more interesting.  To Indonesia's National Gallery – in a vaguely neo-classical building.  Us the only visitors in this rather run-down place.  Dark inside, cracks and stains on the walls – but CCTV in all the rooms.  Some quite nice Chinese ceramics, especially the celadon ware.  But the art pale imitations of Western-styles – far weaker than the indigenous stuff.  So an easy decision thereafter to come back to the hotel – and not go to the new marina development as I had originally suggested.  Traffic still mad.  Way back reminded me of Hong Kong – broad avenue, stuffed to the gunwales with traffic, heat, dust – and energy.  I had a sense of the country being out of control – a huge, pullulating mass of energy.  Interesting.

After lunch and a rest, out to the main store nearby, Sarinah.  Reminds us of Galeries Lafayette (ah, Paris).  Buying a few things – me, books – then out again, to find that it is night, only an hour or so later.  Strange this, and the bath of warmth we enter.  Long, tiring day, but good to be drawing things to a close.

12.7.92 Jakarta

Waiting for the gamelan at the National Museum of Indonesia.  More fun and games with the taxi driver – hasn't got change, etc., etc.  Yesterday, we had a madman/knave, and one with fleas.  Museum looking good – fine sculptures as we enter – Ganesh again.  Wooden seats around the gamelan at the other end – the heat of the sun creeping towards us.  Currently distinctly Islamic music blaring around us.  The first piece very harsh and abstract, with keening women.  The second – now – is huge and surging – like "Le Mer" – roulades and men's voices storming periodically.   Gamelan quite hard – not like Garuda's in Yogyakarta.

13.7.92 Abu Dhabi

In the transit lounge, a huge mosque-like construction with a vast green ceramic sprouting in the middle, like a palm tree.  A nacreous dawn outside...

1992 Indonesia I: Lombok, Bali
1988 Hong Kong, Bali

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