Kami sudah pulang

We are home – yet there are still a few things I haven’t covered, and will endeavour to touch on them as I have time.

Well – six months is a long time. When you are looking forwards, but now, from where I sit, back in Darwin, back at work, back in Australian culture – six months is an incredibly short amount of time. We went to Yogyakarta with some goals and aspirations, ideals and ideas, hopes and dreams. We learnt more than we ever thought possible and have come away with so much more of an understanding of who we are and how we fit in to Indonesian culture.

Before embarking on our journey, Jas and I thought she had a pretty good understanding of basic Javanese culture and we looked forward to filling in the gaps. We thought Jas only had one living relative in Indonesia. I hoped to, at the end of six months, be able to hold a basic conversation. We thought we’d just raise Jack as we would in Australia with a few flavourings of local custom here or there. What we found, discovered, learnt and adapted to was vastly different. After six months, we understand more about the Javanese culture than ever – and realise we know so very, very little. It proves the old saying: “you don’t know, what you don’t know”. In other words, until you truly explore an area, you won’t realise there is so much more to learn at depths only complete immersion can make possible. We met huge numbers of Jasmine’s extended family, including her aunty and cousin. All of this came about from learning the language and both of us being able to ask and guide conversations in Bahasa Indonesia – rather than one translating while the other sits confused (figure out who was who in that situation). That situation came about partly due to me picking up a huge amount of the language, far more than I had thought possible – due in part to studying at a fantastic language school and partly due to having no choice but learn. Only a few people in the kampung spoke English – I could not have survived without adapting and learning the language. Finally, raising Jack proved to be the trickiest part of the bargain. For instance, the concept of control crying, or even any crying does not compute in Javanese culture. If we left Jack to cry, for even minutes, Budhe (Jasmine’s aunty) would literally end up in tears and have to leave the house. Things like this came up daily and we had to adapt.

We explored Yogyakarta for really the first time, despite having been there before. We were living there – and had to fend for ourselves, not having Jas’ Mum around to orchestrate outings for us and pay for everything in advance. We found new and interesting places to visit and new restaurants to eat at. We made new friends and got to know old friends again. We learnt about the tourist traps and tricks, how to avoid them, and how to have a laugh with the scammers about it once they realised we weren’t orang turis. And probably most importantly, we learnt more about Budhe and her life.

Budhe was amazing to live with for six months. A strong and independent woman who never had children and was never married (though she was very close twice, but her beau’s families put an end to it based on religion – they were Catholic, she was Muslim). Despite never being a mother, Budhe does not lack the instinct, and children adore her. The anak-anak kampung (children of our village) come to see her daily and talk to her. Her manner with them is different to the other adults, she sees them as small people with ideas and feelings, and treats them accordingly. Her efforts in helping us with Jack were immense, and truly valued by us. Her sense of humour and cheeky side made her great fun to live with. Her amazing cooking kept us very well fed and her care for all of us was heartfelt and real. When our friend passed away in Darwin, Budhe helped us prepare a Javanese ceremony for her and cried true tears for us and our pain. Budhe may have never met our friend, but was kasihan for us and our loss. A truly remarkable woman.

When it came time for us to leave Yogya, our goodbyes were hard. We were surprised at the tears that others shed, but we had stayed for six months and had tried to be involved in the kampung as much as our energy levels would allow. At the airport, our goodbyes with Budhe were incredibly hard. I know call her my aunty in conversation with others, as our relationship went to a new stratosphere. Being able to say more than “thank you” and “yummy food”, plus the huge amounts of time just the two of us spent together led to a new relationship and bond. There were lots of tears. Most of them mine (what’s new?). We left Yogya and felt like we were leaving a member of our family behind. We have promised to return and due to Budhe’s relationship with Jack – we must. But most of all we want to.

There were times while we were in Yogya that it all got too much. Culture shock. Kampung living. Being surrounded by people. Foreign food and foreign culture. Having a small child overseas. However, what we learnt and gained, far out weighed any possible negatives.


A few photos from our final days in Yogya. Thanks to our friend Budi for the great photo shoot with Budhe too.

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Hari Terakhir – Final Day

Our final day in the jungle, please read Selamat datang di hutan and Camp Leakey first. 

We slept again under our mosquito net canopy, listening to the monyet Belanda chatter high up in the trees above us. Early in the morning, a torrential downpour started, further reducing the chances for my optimistic washing effort from two days ago. The rain belted down for hours in the lead up to the scheduled feeding session, our guide slightly less keen than usual to walk into the jungle in the rain. “There will be less orangutans here than at Camp Leakey, and with the rain, even less will come….,” he carefully explained. After some gentle persuasion on our behalf and the easing back of the downpour, we headed back into the jungle for one final time. We couldn’t miss one last chance could we?!


Morning downpour.

We had arrived at Pondok Tanggui, a former rice field for our final day, final feeding and final chance to see the orangutans. We were greeted at the dock by a large male high in the trees, checking out who was coming and going. There has been a history of orangutans and monyet climbing on to the klotoks and stealing food at Camp Leakey, but apparently the orangutans here are a little more timid. We make our way up the wooden path that leads over the swamp mangroves and on to dry(-er) land. The rain had definitely eased but had left plenty of water around the place.


Heading into Pondok Tanggui

The further we went into the jungle, the hotter and steamer it became. Our highly fashionable rain-coats becoming mobile pseudo-saunas as the pounds dripped off of us, and by the time we made it to the feeding station, I felt like I’d sweated Jack’s weight in water. We arrived to the wondrous sight of a massive male orangutan perched on the feeding station, his cheeks flaps well and truly developed (a sign of maturity) and dark orange hair resplendent in what morning sunshine that had managed to filter through the jungle canopy. This was a big orangutan, probably as big as Camp Leakey’s Tom, if not bigger – and the Raja of Pondok Tanggui. He had an amazing commanding presence on the feeding platform, no other orangutan brave enough to attempt to grab a cheeky hand of bananas as he sat and slowly ate. Eager to capture a photo of this impressive Raja, I grabbed my camera and quickly took a few photos, an exercise largely pointless as the humidity in the jungle canopy had completely fogged my lens over (and the cameras of a few others). Rueing my decision to leave the little point and click camera on the boat, we had no other choice but to actually stop, watch and enjoy the display, rather than trying to frame a perfect picture! Not necessarily a terrible outcome.

Desperate not to miss out on some food, a cheeky mother carrying a tiny baby swung down behind the rangers and swiped a cane basket still half-full of pisang (bananas) and took up quickly up the tree. Our clever friend perched high up in the tree and tried to eat as many bananas as possible before another, more dominant female orangutan swung through the trees and grabbed the basket for her turn. We sat, drenched in sweat and rain in the jungle watching these majestic creatures play and fight, swinging quickly through the trees, lumbering along the ground and watching us back with interest – for nearly two hours. Eventually, hunger, heat and the desire for a mandi won over and we made our way back to the klotok for a final meal and our cruise back to land.

Mandis on the klotok were an “embracing” affair, washing with what felt like a bucket of ice drawn straight from the river, tannins and all. There were no long, luxurious washes – it was get clean(-ish) in as few bucket throws as possible. A quick stop off at a Dayak village in the jungle to buy some oleh-oleh (souvenirs), some fresh rambutans and have a chat with the locals was a nice end to the trip. Tanjung Harapan is a tiny village of 200 people that survives across the river from the national park. Life is reliant on the river and what it provides, or takes in the case of flooding. Life seemed pretty basic, but there was no-one wandering around half-naked, covered in body paint, back from hunting in the jungle. That’s unrealistic. They wear jeans and designer knock-offs. Boar hunting with rifles and Giorgio Armani or Gucci t-shirts. As with almost everywhere in the world, the kids ran around in Chelsea and Manchester United rip-offs, there were (ridiculously) a few people with motorbikes getting around the village (see previous post about Indonesian’s and walking distances), everyone smoked cigarettes and loved sinetron (Indonesian soap operas). I didn’t take many photos at Tanjung Harapan village. I looked at other bule walking by and snapping people sitting on their front porches or washing clothes from a metre away, then walking off. It seemed so inappropriate when I reversed the situation – would it be fine for a complete stranger to walk into my laundry and take a photo of me loading the washing machine, then turn and walk off? Or pictures of me relaxing with a coffee out the front of my house? I know everyone wants that amazing photo from another culture, but at least get some form of consent before you take close-ups of people, and at least show the person!


The main street of Tanjung Harapan.

We began the slow journey back to Kumai tired, but absolutely amazed at what we had seen and done. We had wondered how many orangutans we would actually see, how close we’d get and whether four days on a klotok was actually achievable with a nine month old, active and mobile child on a river that was formerly known as Sungai Buaya (Crocodile River- in fact a British tourist got taken a few years ago swimming at Camp Leakey’s dock). We had survived, no small part to our fantastic crew, who looked out for us, played with Jack and did an all-round amazing job. Their knowledge of the hutan and the animals in it was incredible and they went above and beyond what a lot of the other guides and crew were doing to give us a little bit more. I think this was partly down to our attitude, we wanted to eat together and talk together in Indonesian, and were able to make a few jokes together; while other tourists kept a lot of distance between themselves and their crew, maintaining more of a “staff” like relationship.

We had an incredible adventure in the Taman Nasional Tanjung Puting that will never be forgotten. Four breathtaking days meeting our orange-haired cousins in their own environment, amazing food, the beautiful river and meeting the other inhabitants of the lush jungle rate as one of the most amazing things we have ever experienced. All that remains is to plan another trip, deep in to the Borneo jungle, to catch up with the likes of Pan, Princess and Tom again.


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Camp Leakey– orangutan dimana-mana

We woke on the still river to the sounds of the monyet Belanda crashing through the trees, scared off by the fearsome early morning roar of Jack. We breakfasted on freshly-made banana pancakes, prepared by our captive cook, Mbak Ija (Miss Ija) as we cruised slowly along the river. Today we were heading further into Taman Nasional Tanjung Puting to Camp Leakey, the main research centre in the park and the workplace of Dr Birute Galdikas.

Galdikas has lived and worked in the area since 1971 and is considered the authority on orangutan research. Galdikas was the third member of “Leakey’s Angels”, a group of three researchers of the great apes, the other two being Jane Goodall and Diane Fossey. Camp Leakey is named after her mentor and supporter, paleoanthropologist Louis Leakey. Prior to her studies in the Tanjung Puting National Park, very little was known about the “Red Ape”.  It has not all been smooth sailing – she has attracted strong criticism in the past; mainly for the practice of reintroduction of orangutans to the wild and involvement in local disputes such as illegal logging and mining in the park – but her research is incredible, without peer and has proved invaluable in keeping orangutans on our planet. We had a very brief brush with her and she seemed a gracious and humble lady, willing to chat to anyone providing she had time.

We arrived at Camp Leakey and were immediately in the action. Cheeky young orangutan, “Atlas” and his mother “Akmad” were hanging out in the centre of the camp. Atlas was very playful and bold, trying to take fruit from our guide. Jack was completely confused at this small, childlike figure covered in red hair running around us, up to us and trying to grab things from us. We sat and watched Atlas play for nearly an hour, jumping up and grabbing things, racing back to his mother for reassurance, trying to steal the rangers shoes from outside the ranger’s station and so on.


Young “Atlas” entertaining us.

Camp Leakey has a strong population of orangutans that frequently appear. Most are former captives and orphans that have been re-released in to the wild. Their presence is controversial to many as it is seen as a lack of adaption to the wild. I know little about the orangutan psyche, so I have no strong opinion. What I do know is there are a lot of orangutans around Camp Leakey. They seem pretty interested in humans. They are in no way pets or trained performers.

We spent two full days at Camp Leakey, hanging out where ever orangutans happened to be around that day. Afternoons were spent at the feeding stations. A lot of the other groups were spending just the afternoon or perhaps a full day at the camp, so most of the time we were by ourselves in the camp. Afternoon feeding sessions were heavily attended and with good reason – up to 25 orangutans came swinging through the trees to make the session.

The feeding station is located quite deep in the jungle; the air thick and damp. A well trodden path leads to the wooden platform for the afternoon offering, the crowd segregated by a thin piece of rope that stretched only across the front of the platform. The rope is to ensure tourists maintain a suitable distance from the feeding orangutans, rather than the other way around – nothing so token and flimsy would slow down an animal five times stronger than a human that can also climb! We arrived both days just after feeding had started, the platform already having the boldest or biggest orangutan from the area in place enjoying the provided fruit. Dozens of other orangutans would watch and wait for their turn in the pecking order, or an opportune slip in concentration from the feeding orangutan to sneak down and grab a tangan pisang (hand of bananas), before darting back up the tree trunks to enjoy. Tourists watch in awe, almost oversaturated with the action – so many orangutans attend these Camp Leakey feeding stations at times when forest trees are not fruiting, that you don’t know where to look. Young orangutans swing wildly through the branches, testing new moves and techniques, sending tree debris dropping to the ground underneath them. Occasionally a rustle of leaves from behind the group of tourists would signal the arrival of another orangutan, that would slowly make their way through the quickly dispersing crowd to join the action. It’s impossible not to be slightly panicked as this happens – while these orangutans are used to humans, many have a history of biting people!


               Into the jungle we go!

Often it is also interesting to watch other tourists in these situations. One Italian man in perfectly pressed shirt, chinos and boat shoes was snapping away wildly on his huge DSLR camera. He would not have looked out of place in a small street side cafe, but a bit overdressed in the jungle! A large group of American tourists associated with the organisation spent large amounts of time talking amongst themselves, often about the film industry and the difficulties associated with finding work in the current climate – seemingly oblivious to the orangutans. Their tour leader, a travel agent from LA, had an air of “knowledge” about her, loudly scoffing at the local rangers, Dayak people born in the jungle, calling for the orangutanPrincess” to join the feeding. “Oh, there’s no point them calling out for Princess today – she definitely won’t come” she declared, showing off her strong knowledge garnered over previous tour trips, to all within earshot. Moments later a loud rustle of leaves, a few branches part and Princess lopes in to the clearing – eager to join the fun. Sometimes life is so sweet!

Princess also provided us with a moment that we will never never forget. On our way back to the boat, up the narrow jungle path after the feeding, we saw Princess loping towards us. On the advice on our guide, we proceeded to try and walk straight past her, despite her stopping, almost as if to talk. Suddenly, this huge, strong hand gripped tightly around my arm – I was going nowhere. With similar speed, Princess reached out and grabbed Jasmine’s arm, then proceeded to walk with us out of the jungle. We felt like we were helping an elderly family member walk to the lounge room, except for the incredible strength in her hands. She was holding us gently, but there was no way we could have got our arms free had we wanted to. As we reached the edge of the thick jungle and into a cleared plain, Princess sat down and let us free – her job done, we were safely out of the jungle! Before we set out I was wondering how many orangutans we would actually see – I wasn’t expecting a guided jungle tour with one.


Princess helping us out of the jungle.

The closeness of the orangutans at Camp Leakey is incredible. You are metres away from them as they walk around the camp, sometimes having to step over them as they sprawl across walk ways. They are cheeky, but still wild – one large male, Pan, broke into the Ranger’s house the night before we arrived and stole 7kg of rice, bags of sugar and other food, by tearing a hole in the eaves and crawling through the roof. Pan is the orangutan in the photo with Jasmine and Jack in the clearing.


Pan getting to know Jack. Jasmine managing to hide her apprehension.

We also had the fantastic opportunity to meet Tom, the Raja (King) of Camp Leakey. He is the alpha male, a huge and imposing character that rules the camp through a mixture of aggression and intimidation. Tom is a legend of sorts, known for destroying Dr Galdikas’ front porch several times and forcibly copulating with any of the female orangutans he can find. In fact this was tweeted by Dr Galdikas yesterday:

 @DrBirute: At Camp Leakey yesterday adult male Tom forcibly copulated with his mother Tut!! and then ate 30 durians. Yes, that’s our boy;food and sex!

Not everyone’s cup of tea I know, but that’s the way of the wild. Here is Tom below, looking for food at the Ranger’s station.


Our time at Camp Leakey was simply incredible, sleeping on the boat between each of the days in a secluded part of the river under the stars, watching the monyet Belanda swing through the trees, laughing at the macaques monkeys sneaking around, looking shifty, and of course the incredible orangutans. We also managed to spot a lightning fast gibbon (rarely spotted) while chatting to the Dayak Rangers during a tropical  down-pour – us having so much time and being able to speak Indonesian lead to opportunities to sit and talk about culture and the jungle when the workers had time to spare, in turn leading to opportunities to watch the incredible wildlife moving around us.

To be continued…

more on Galdikas


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Selamat datang di hutan – Welcome to the jungle

Our long awaited trip to Kalimantan finally arrived and we were off to meet the orangutans and cruise through the jungle. We set forth on our journey, leaving Yogyakarta for the “River City”, Banjarmasin.

We were flying from Yogya with the ever consistent Indonesian airline, Lion Air (consistently delayed – to be expected, the country runs on the premise that everyone is late). We touched down in Banjarmasin to be met by the news that there were currently no taxis and we would have to wait. A friendly fellow tried to help us out, after much encouragement from his friends, by offering us a lift to town for about double the going rate. He didn’t count on; a) me knowing what the taxi fair should’ve cost, b) me understanding what his friends were telling him to say and most importantly, c) I’m bloody stubborn! So after a long discussion on the availability of bensin (petrol) in South Kalimantan, the time of day, the unlikelihood of any taxis being available, the length of a piece of string – a cab pulled up – we jumped in and off we went to our luxurious hotel.

Well, not luxurious at all, it was basic and dirt cheap – at $20AUD for a clean, air-con room with a shower. Until we arrived, starving from no dinner and an hour of waiting/bickering at the airport, to realise that there was nowhere nearby open to get some food. Never fear, this is Indonesia; one of the front desk guys went to find us some ayam goreng (fried chicken) and some sayur (vegetables) and even came back with change. One of the many advantages of travelling with a cute baby and an attractive wife. The next day we flew aboard a bi-plane (well, a twin-prop) to the small town of Pangkalan Bun, to be met by our tour guide for our trip, Rudi and be taken to our losmen (a losmen is cheap accommodation, bit like a cross between a home stay and a hotel) for the night, in the port town of Kumai. Landing in Pangkalan Bun was interesting. We were in a tiny airport, surrounded by many a bule in safari style garb. Some looked straight out of a Dr Livingstone story, in hundreds of dollars of brand new get-ups (some with matching hats!), looking prepared to tackle the jungle head on. We were in jeans.

Our accommodation in Kumai was more basic than Banajarmasin – we had air-con again and access to many warungs out the front door – this time for a mighty $10AUD per night. No hot water or shower this time around though, it was mandi or bust. Kumai is a quaint little town, very used to Western tourists stomping through it and full of opportunistic entrepreneurs, canny boat owners and eager guides keen for your business. Brave kids come from everywhere to talk to you, guys offer you cheap access to their boat and all inclusive tours of the National Park. Unfortunately for them, we’d organised everything from Yogya through one contact. You could save small amounts I think by rocking up and bargaining your way around the town, but that would eat at least a day and is it really worth it? Our stay in Kumai would be short, as we were heading in to the Tanjung Puting National Park the next morning, aboard out klotok (converted fishing boat).

We were woken from a restful sleep by the distorted warbling tones of the owner’s overweight, 8 year old grandson echoing down the main corridor. He sounded like he was auditioning for Islamic Idol and he would definitely make an episode if he was, largely as comedy relief. It was like our own, personal, fat little call to prayer. After praying for respite that was not granted, we dragged ourselves out of bed and set about packing up to depart on the klotok.

The real adventure began as we pulled out from the dock, realising that we were setting forth on what would be a truly amazing experience. There were definite nerves, how would Jack go on a boat for 4 days? How many orangutans would we see? Would it all be worth it? Many tourists stay for one or two nights – heading straight up the river after landing in Pangkalan Bun in the afternoon, doing overnight, then straight back out. We had the luxury of four full days on the klotok, so our trip up Sungai Sekonyer (Sekonyer river) was at half pace. Slowly but surely the jungle became thicker and thicker as we neared our first stop, Tanjung Harapan in time for the scheduled feeding time. There is much conjecture over the practice continued feeding of released orangutans. One school of thought is that it encourages dependence and is primarily for continued support for tourism, the other is that it is supplemental feeding and that if there is adequate fruit in the forest the orangutans do not come.

We waited in the steaming jungle for nearly two hours, staring dourly at a pile of bananas resting on a wooden platform, like some sacrifice to a vegetarian God. Our guide reassuring us throughout that we would see more orangutans at the other camps. We waited patiently, pretending not to speak English to avoid talking to the loud American tourists, sitting patiently and sweating. A few groups left, feeling they’d seen enough at other camps. We were patient, aware that we had plenty of time and that this camp has the most “wild” orangutans. After almost giving up, a young, shy male orangutan rustled through the branches – perching up above us to survey the scene. He too was patient, taking almost half-an-hour to watch and wait – keeping an eye out for threats such as us, or more dominant males.

He swung down and started scarfing bananas with ferocity, always keeping an eye on us and another on the jungle around. It was amazing. Jack was completely blown away by his red cousin, confused equally by it’s foreignness and familiarity. We watched this little guy eat for nearly an hour before he headed back in to the jungle, sated and happy with a belly full of bananas. Absolutely stoked with what we seen, we made our way back to the boat, looking forward to what the next day would bring. Only, we didn’t get that far – coming across a large male orangutan hanging out near the path. He was only 3 metres away and while being a bit nervous managed to come down to ground level to grab a hand of bananas before taking of back in to the trees. Truly breathtaking.

Now we were really humming. We headed back to the boat to head further up the river and pick a nice piece of river bank to sleep next to. Lining the river to watch us go by were hundreds of monyet Belanda (Dutch Monkeys [also known as the Proboscis monkey] – named such by the locals because of their huge noses and pot-bellies). Jack and the monkeys traded screams, shouts and thumps as he crawled atop the deck as dusk slowly set in and we prepared for our first night under the mosquito net in the middle of the jungle.

To be continued….

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Vale Helen Lee

Today’s post has nothing really to do with Indonesia, but to do with losing a great friend. So with a very heavy heart I will attempt to do a fantastic person justice in the only way I can think of. So, Helen – if I fall short, I am sorry. I’m not going to pretend I knew Helen really well, or that we were best friends. Helen and Jasmine became friends through their pole dancing class – and over time, as their friendship grew, it seeped down to me. For that I am grateful.

Helen was a gregarious and effervescent person, full of life and enthusiasm. You didn’t want to be friends with Helen – you wanted Helen to be friends with you. Helen had this amazing intuition to know when someone needed a helping hand. Words needed not to be spoken, she would just seem to sense a person’s feelings and act according. A quick chat, bring a coffee, something small and thoughtful. Not grandiose gestures, and things that could easily go unnoticed to the majority.  But to that person – they meant the world.

Helen was taken from us far too early and far too abruptly through a terrible accident. One of the hardest things for us has been the complete disassociation and disconnection with the situation. While we are not far away geographically – we are worlds away in real terms. The whole thing has seemed like a bad dream or a case of mistaken identity. We wish it was.

Part of us still thinks when we get back to Australia, that Helen will still be around for a chat or a coffee, to regale us with tales of her weekend and what’s been happening; tell us more about her family; where her next holiday will be. Helen won’t be there when we get back to Darwin. At least not in person.

We regretted not having more time to spend to be closer with Helen. We’d both spoken about looking forward to catching up with her when we got back. Spoken of Helen seeing Jack again – now so much bigger than last time. Simple plans. Part of the trouble in general with catching up with Helen is that she had so many plans and so many friends! And seemed to always have time for all of them. Helen was so busy you almost had to book a spot – but always knew, when you did have time to catch up, her attention was undivided, her thoughts were with you and she was listening. Something we could all take note of doing more.

They always say in these situations that God has a plan. He surely must. There is no other reason such a beautiful, genuine, fun-loving and compassionate woman would be reached out for so young, so soon and so quickly. Whatever God needed a hand with up there – it needed the best. Helen Lee – we’ll miss you. We’ll miss not knowing you better. We’ll miss not watching you continue to glow. Most of all, we’ll miss such an amazing friend.

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Bintang lagi – di Singapore

What was that? A jaunt to Singapore under the guise of chasing pig-skin? Only have to pay for my airfare? Hotel will be nice rather than cockroach infested hell-hole! Count me in!

So, off I went for a solo tour to the lovely, accessible and exceptionally clean city state of Singapore for another couple of games of footy with the esteemed Jakarta Bintangs. Singapore is different to Indonesia. Very different. In almost every way. They are almost impossible to compare and offer such vastly different experiences. Singapore is so clean, organised, structured and regulated. There is a fine or penalty for everything. A sign telling you not to do this or that. People follow the rules (generally). You can cross the street. Use a crosswalk. Cars tend to be on the correct side of the road. It’s weird.

Singapore isn’t better than Indonesia. It’s definitely cleaner and Indonesia could learn a thing or two about organisation and civil works, but it is so regulated. You almost feel like you need to pay for a fun license when you arrive and only have fun in approved areas. Singapore is a bit like that girl you liked in high-school. She’s sweet, she’s nice, every likes her. She’s pretty enough. You loved spending time with her,  but eventually you got a bit bored, noticed other girls with a little more mystery and sex appeal, and off you ran – traipsing through South-East Asia strapped to a backpack looking for something “interesting”.

All that aside, I do really enjoy visiting Singapore. Living there I think would get a little samey after a while, but for short visits (and football related jaunts it’s perfect).  We were on tour to take on regional powerhouse (and ferociously named) Singapore Wombats and massive “local” rivals the Malaysia Warriors. We brought along a decent squad comprising of 11 able-bodied bule expats from Jakarta, two dodgy ring-ins from Yogyakarta (myself and man’s-man JP)and four brave Indonesian guys to compete in  two, 16-aside games. Malaysia were a little undermanned but brought a will to compete and Singapore enjoyed a home ground advantage (and about 30 on the bench).

The weather – hot. The footy – frantic. We held our own in the first half against Singapore before being overwhelmed by wave after wave of fresh players. A well-earned rest and the chance to watch Singapore and Malaysia hurt each other, followed before grudge match especial versus Malaysia. We succumbed to peer pressure and grabbed a few ring-ins of our own from Singapore (purely to supplement our talent, they were rubbish really). Thankfully the heat took a lot of the sting out of the game and reckless violence gave way to champagne football. Well, perhaps Passion Pop football. All the same it was a fierce contest, mano a mano, with pride, bragging rights and a large trophy on the line. After being down at half time, we were dragged back in to the contest by our asli Indonesian players, spurred on by centuries of rivalry over language, culture and batik; and eventually ran out convincing (two goals) winners.

As with any football club anywhere in the world, what followed was presentations and some responsible and mature skolling games. I managed to proxy my award of reasonable player in the first game to the “Max” part of my Bintangs nickname (Max’s Mate Carl), who did a fine job of restoring the shame I dealt to the club for refusing my beer.  Then time for a quick swim back at the hotel and a rendezvous with the Singapore and Malaysia guys for some more light-hearted banter, a kebab and more gentle skolling. The night soon gave way to revelry as we charged up our fun cards with fun credits and headed to Clarke Quay to dance the night away. In an organised and safe manner.


As what happens on your stays on tour (see: my camera had a flat battery), Jack wanting to ikut is all that makes the cut!

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Kebun Binatang – Gembira Loka Zoo

I’d been pretty keen to head to the Yogyakarta Kebun Binatang (zoo) since we arrived, if for nothing else for something to do. Part of me really loves the zoo. Much more then say, the circus. Clowns are scary. Anyway, Jas was less keen based on a previous excursion nearly a decade ago when she witnessed all of the animals being fed chicken. Including the kangaroos and other herbivores. I hoped things had improved and as Gembira Loka translates to happy world – you have to take a chance! They had, though as you’d expect in Indonesia – not everything is perfect.

One thing everyone has to keep in mind regarding animals in Indonesia is that animals, in any culture, are generally housed and treated worse than the living standards of the humans within that culture. Makes sense really – you look after you like and kin first. So to all those newly vegan friends of mine that only just realised animals aren’t all slaughtered humanely – things aren’t always same as they are in Australia. Shock, I know. To be fair to Gembira Loka they have made honest attempts to improve enclosure sizes and animal care (i.e. not just chicken for lunch!) and the signs at least discourage things being thrown at the animals.

There are still things that you probably wouldn’t see, do or be socially acceptable in a traditional “Western” zoo. The opportunity to ride the Gajah (elephants) for instance were a bit of a shock. I resisted the urge – but I can understand people that cannot. The interesting inclusion of fish foot spa treatments between the ikan (fish) and buaya (crocodile) displays. Throwing food to orangutans (incidentally, orangutan is from two Indonesian words – orang and hutan, basically translating to people from the forest) is probably also inappropriate, but to be fair, it was largely bananas and the orangutans seemed appreciative. Animals here are generally treated like entertainment or for work purposes.  You get a laugh from them, use them to drag something heavy (like a cart full of tourists)  or eat them. Sometimes in that order. Not a criticism, just a cultural difference.

Otherwise, it was a nice day out at the Kebun Binatang with the family. Jack loved the animals. People loved Jack. People found the display of the “big white bule” riveting and wanted lots of photos with me. Occasionally just photos of me. As in walking past me pretending not to take photos on their BlackBerry, taking one, then running off laughing. Budhe, Is and Jas enjoyed spending some time together wandering around, humouring me and Jack, avidly avoiding the snake displays and finding the birds largely boring (and lets face it – they are).

Highlights were definitely the lazy lions and tigers, the freakishly humanlike orangutans and chimpanzees peeling bananas and drinking water from water bottles, the huge tortoise chowing down on lunch, Jack’s face lighting up with wonderment and awe when he was able to pet the kura-kura (turtle) in the petting pool, Jack’s face when he was close to any animal, and family time in general. So well done Gembira Loka – perfect you are not, but at least you are trying.

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Qunci, qunci, qunci

After months of cultural immersion, living with the people, sampling village life, doing the simple things – we were tired. Very tired. It was time to escape, be a lazy tourist and relax somewhere warm, well serviced and clean. Enter Lombok – enter Qunci Villas.

We’ve been to Lombok twice and stayed at Qunci. Both times with the misconception that we would brave the rest of the island and explore – only to  soak up the sun by the pool sipping first class cocktails. Lazy travelling that we don’t normally do – but very nice. Our time in Yogyakarta has been busy. Despite popular belief; it’s not a holiday! Jas has been studying full time and I’ve been busy at home as Dad to a very mobile little man. We’ve loved the opportunity – but it hasn’t all been lounging around the house! Coupled with the culture shock we went through as part of living in the kampung full time – it was really time to have a mini-break away, in some luxury, just relaxing.

From what I hear the island of Lombok is amazing. From what I’ve seen on the way to the hotel and from my deckchair – I’d say that’s about right. The people are very friendly and the scenery beautiful. Had we not been so tired, a bit more of a look around would have been in order. Instead a massage a day, fabulous Western style food from the restaurant and a hell of a lot of swimming was our experience of Lombok. We lived it up, indulged our whims and recharged for the final few months back in Yogya. Jack managed to win new friends (again) amongst the other guests, the hotel staff and the beach hawkers. His love of people and ability to crack a heart warming smile is hopefully something that will stay with him for the future. His keen eye for a pretty lady probably won’t fade either.

Anyway enough gloating – I’ll leave you with some pictures that tell the story better then I can and just say – we loved it!

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Budaya perbedaan–culture shock in a foreign land

A great intellectual and theologian once explained living in a foreign culture with this Johns-ist quote: “living in another culture is like snorkelling while everyone else is scuba diving. you can see what’s going on and are involved – but you can never get down to that other level”.

Part of the problem with integrating and understanding another culture is that you can never quite integrate or understand no matter how long you stay. You will always be an outsider, especially if you look different. No matter how much of the language we learn or culture we understand, the becak drivers will still try to take us to batik sales or special toko bakpia pathok (food souvenir stores – they employ becak drivers to ferry unsuspecting bules there for commission), or we will fail to be fully sopan (polite) especially within the extremely complex Budaya Jawa (Javanese culture).

Culture shock is said to have four phases. The honeymoon phase where everything is interesting, fun (or funny), the food is great and life is peachy. Approximately three months following the arrival in the country –the honeymoon is over baby, it’s never gunna be that way again. Enter the negotiation phase – where cultural differences become obvious and the shine has worn off. The quirks of another culture aren’t so charming – more annoying. This phase passes and eventually you head off into the adjustment and mastery phases – but we’ll leave them for another time. They take years. Surviving these phases are part of the fun (apparently!). So with out too much of a whinge – this post is about some of the budaya perbedaan (cultural differences) that have been a challenge – and led to us recently fleeing Yogyakarta for a short non-cultural break in Lombok!

One huge cultural difference that has affected us has been the differences in ideals for raising children. Living in such claustrophobic proximity to people in the kampung means that everyone knows what you’re doing and how you’re doing it, plus everyone has an opinion or piece of advice. “Why was Jack crying last night?” is common, “maybe he was hungry, you should feed him more”. Maybe we were pinching him – you’ll never know. Children aren’t allowed to cry here. The moment a slight noise escapes their lips they are to be fed. They could possibly be hungry. Additionally, children here are carried everywhere in a lendang, up to about adulthood. Fortunately due to a number of factors the kids here are pretty light. Jack is not. Trying to break free of this one has been a hard slog. Also, children are mobile feeders here with parents patiently chasing the kids around with a bowl of sustenance attempting to coerce them into taking a spoonful between playing soccer. There are also a few differences in food education. Rice is viewed as a life source, despite containing no real nutritional value aside from carbohydrates, and sugar is added to all the kids food (including mashed fruits) to make them more palatable. Vegetables or salad are not an option after lunch related to the lack of refrigeration and is technically are good thing food hygiene wise.

Then there are a few everyday things that can be difficult to come to grips with. Things here aren’t maintained. You repair when the item, car, motorbike is completely “trucked”. This is across the board, from bike tyres and car engines to roads and government systems. Furthermore, direct confrontation is very much not sopan (polite). So if someone cuts the queue – let them do it. If someone wants to listen to music at ear bleeding volumes at 5am – silakan! Additionally, while being sopan, if you arrive at someone’s house and they offer you a drink and you should refuse. They’ll ignore you and give you a drink anyway. Which you shouldn’t drink. They’ll insist three times – then you can drink it. But don’t finish it. That’s rude. Also, Within budaya Jawa culture it is better to give an answer. Even if you have truly no idea where that place/person/thing is/lives/was. And you shouldn’t ask a question if you think the person may not be able to answer it.

If you are lucky enough to have to deal with any office departments like I have had the pleasure to, you’ll learn a few things about being hormat (respectful) in that environment. Rock up in thongs, shorts and unshaved – you may as well not come at all. I wear a batik shirt, pants, good shoes, clean shaven and rock up as early as possible. While waiting I have witnessed unsuspecting bules being forced to wait for hours for things that take minutes. You have to play the game. There is no way around that. Also, every time the system changes – go here, go there, bring this, no you don’t need that you need this, come back tomorrow (when I’m not here), you’re too early, you have the wrong face, etc, etc. You have to smile and move on. Homicide will get you nowhere.

Within the kampung, whenever you go anywhere you are asked “Mau ke mana?” (Where do you want to go?) It’s the Indonesia version of g’day, how are you? No one actually cares. You’re not meant to answer properly, a simple jalan-jalan saja (just walking around) will suffice – but until you work that out you’ll be giving unwanted information to everyone. Another thing within the kampung, you can’t go out if it’s too hot. Or if it could be hot. Or was hot. Or if it’s raining. Or if it could rain. Or if it has rained. Or if it’s too late at night. Or if it’s too early. Or if it’s busy. Probably just stay home. The most common ailment within the kapung is Masuk angin (literally wind that has entered your body) and is blamed for everything. And caused by everything. Such as going out in the above mentioned conditions. Or going to the beach. Or having a mandi too late. Or [insert anything here]…….

So sometimes things get a bit too much and you need a break. Is living here a horrible experience surrounded by crazy people? Maybe – but only when you’re tired, sick or over it all. The rest of the time it is interesting, exciting and enjoyable. There just comes a time in every relationship when you need some some “me-time”. Time out to think about things – remember what you love. While in Lombok. By the pool. Watching the sunset. While sipping a cocktail. Ahhhhhhh……….


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Upacara–Tedak Siten

Sorry for the huge delay on the ceremony post. Been tired, busy and lazy. Probably in that order!

Jasmine’s family being asli Yogyakarta means that there is a rich cultural background that we have had the opportunity to sample. After our “Western” wedding ceremony in 2007 we travelled to Jogya for a intimate traditional wedding upacara (ceremony) (around 400 guests). Then last year we were lucky enough to experience a Mitoni – a Javanese ceremony performed when the mother-to-be is 7th months pregnant with her first baby. This traditional ceremony aims to request God’s blessings for the safety of the would-be parents and the baby. This trip led to the opportunity to hold an Upacara Tedak Siten for Jack.

So why hold these upacara? Why not! Unfortunately these days many of the ceremonies are not held by your every day Orang Jawa (Javanese person). Like all cultures there is a slow seeping loss of traditions as globalisation and modernisation takes hold combined with most upacara being comparatively expensive and taking a lot of organising and time to prepare. In this way we’re lucky to have a family that is so excited by the prospect of hosting these ceremonies and have so many contacts that make organisation so easy (for us anyway!).

So – a Tedak Siten – what is involved! Well, the specifics are a little sketchy as the lady that explains the ceremony to us speaks to us in the Krama Inggil level of Bahasa Jawa, the level that no-one we know speaks fluently. Jas can speak Ngoko fluently and can understand some Krama Madya. I understand some Bahasa Indonesia which is largely useless when someone is speaking Javanese.  The easiest way to explain this is basically like having someone explain something to you in Ole World Shakespearean English when one of you speaks Generation-X English and the other one speaks French. Even our family don’t speak Krama Inggil – so things tend to get interesting!

The Tedak Siten is a ceremony to celebrate Jack’s first steps on the earth and to help provide with guidance and blessings for his life ahead. There were complex preparations, a Taj Mahal marquee set-up in the back yard and we were joined by everyone from the village, plus some local friends and the UGM Bules. The ceremony had a number of steps and stages, that despite the number – flew by! It all started with the first steps on the earth. Jack was assisted with stepping on seven different coloured plates of glutinous rice that symbolise aspects of nature that he will be able to overcome. Jack then had to climb (with assistance) up a sugarcane ladder (Arjuna ladder), sit on a sugarcane chair on top and be generally brave and strong. Jack was meant to behave like Arjuna – a true Javanese fighter and warrior. Passing the sugarcane Arjuna ladder stage depicts that he should walk in life with determination and full of confidence like the hero.

Mandi time followed in a big brass tub. This symbolic cleansing will lead to our child (hopefully) giving a good name to the family. Then, my favourite bit. Jack (and his caring and supportive mother) had to climb inside a giant decorated rooster cage. Inside the cage are various things of interest such as pens, books, jewellery, traditional Apple iPhone© and toys. Jack was then encouraged to choose whatever took his fancy. This would be a sign of his future career – kind of like a pick your future lucky dip. The little man in the cage (Jack) picked a book twice then grabbed some jewellery! This produced sage-like nodding and much cheering – our little man will be a rich scholar, so well done lad. Can’t wait!

Now, this bit I still don’t get. I can see the symbolism in the other stages. I’ve found things online that explain the intricacies. But this bit leaves me, and anyone we ask about it a little stuck. Jack had to walk holding a long piece of sugarcane with a whole ayam bakar (baked chicken) on the top and a tangan pisang (hand of bananas) on the bottom. He had to hold the sugarcane like an old mountain hiker and walk along (assisted of course) the length of the patio. We’ve had a few people try to explain this part and have got; that it will give him grace from god or that he will have a strong spirit. No-one is really sure, but it looked hilarious! Then, it all got a little bit crazy. Well, a lot crazy. The upacara officially over; it was time to get rid of everything. Coins and nuts were thrown in to the crowd by Jas’ Mum. With fervour. Kids came up to fight over the decorated eggs and toys. The sugarcane ladder was broken up and hurled piece by piece in to the onlookers (Jas got in on the act for this). Followed by the chicken-on-a-stick (bananas still in situ). I’ll be honest, it was dangerous.

Still – no one was seriously injured and by all reports everyone thoroughly enjoyed the upacara. Bancaan was handed out (gently) for everyone to eat (wouldn’t be an Indonesian ceremony without food). Then in what is now Indonesian tradition, everyone left as quickly as humanly possible to head off home. Left dazed, confused and still not looking quite right in Batik – I attempted to piece together the stages of the ceremony, understand as much as I could and try to relax. With so much to take in, some confusion and some parts that still no-one can explain – it’s taken quite a while to work out what to write. Hence why it’s taken 5 weeks to get on to this post! So hopefully this will give you a bit of insight in to one of the many, many traditional Upacara Jawa that exists. Or at least some pictures to look at during your lunch-break!


NB1: Huge thanks to our good friend Budi for his amazing photos of our Tedak Siten and Mitoni.

NB2: An even big thanks to family. Mum for making it across, and Ibu Is and Pak Wid for organising the ceremony for us. Terima kasih for the opportunity.

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