"It's a dangerous business, going out your door.
You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet,
there's no knowing where you might be swept off to..."
--J.R.R. Tolkein

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Where to Start?

I have spent the past two weeks in Yogyakarta, Java taking a language class at Sanata Dharma University. It is a private Catholic university—so for those two weeks I was a Catholic schoolgirl. Hah, never thought that would happen. Actually, lots of people from different religions go there. Our program coordinator, Ngurah Termana (we call him Termana) is a Hindu from Bali, but he went there.

We had language class for 4-5 hours every day (excluding weekends), depending on how the teachers were feeling. I wanted to blow my brains out the entire time because I really don’t like language classes (BOOOORING!), but the teachers were actually really nice. A few of them have friended me on Facebook, and two of them took our class to Borobudur for the day (more details on that later).

The other students at Sanata Dharma have also been very nice. Right now it’s the summer holiday, so there aren’t very many Indonesian students here, but there is a group of ten Jesuit priests-in-training from Thailand and Myanmar (!) who have been incredibly friendly. They are here to take a two-month language course, and then they are headed to Jakarta to take a 4-year philosophy program. The only way the Burmese students were able to leave their country is by signing up to become a celibate priest—imagine making a decision like that. I mean, for me the choice is pretty easy. Travel always trumps sex, every time. But they didn’t even know where they’d be going—a few thought they were going to the Philippines. Burma must be pretty bad.

Well, now I have a new country to add to my list of places I absolutely must visit.

When we’re not in class or hanging out with the priests-in-training, we mostly just go around the city with Termana, attending discussions and visiting NGOs. One day we visited a kampong, an urban slum. Would it be horrible of me to say that I found it beautiful? Would that make me a poverty tourist?

We also spent rather a lot of time eating. The mangos are in season now, so I drink juice a lot. Most food is spicy, so eating it can take some work, but I’ve been getting used to it. But note to self: never take a whole spoonful of that mysterious red sauce. I literally felt the fires of hell on my tongue.

I can’t say that I have a favorite food here. All of it is good. Lotek and gado-gado are both vegetable-based dishes with spicy peanut sauce. I also like tempeh (Mom will know it. Ask her for a full explanation) fried in palm oil. And there’s also a Javanese dish called ayam goreng, which is chicken marinated in coconut juice, then fried. Rice is served with every meal (even fried eggs).

When I got sick the first week (just a cold, but it made me pretty miserable), Termana took me to a sidewalk café where they had fresh milk with honey and chunks of ginger floating in it. Best sick day ever!

Besides class and eating, we have had time for a few touristy things. We went to Borobudur for a day with our teachers. It’s a massive Buddhist temple complex in central Java. That day we also went to a small park at the base of the volcano Merapi, where we took a short walk through the forest and saw monkeys.

We also went to Prambanan, the Hindu equivalent, and watched the Ramayana ballet, a traditional Javanese dance telling the love story of the Hindu gods Rama and Shinta. Didn’t really follow it all, but I liked the fight scenes between Rama and the evil monkey army. And the part where they set the whole set on fire.

My favorite part of the whole two weeks was the weekend we drove up into East Java to the village of Sekaralas, where I will be doing my research. I will be living with Bram and Sari, a couple of freelance journalists studying a rather eclectic mix of issues relating to rural Java. Bram’s interest is primarily sustainable agriculture and radical Islam (which I guess has quite a stronghold in that area), while Sari focuses more on community development. Their house is amazing! They even have a dojo, where Bram practices traditional silat (Indonesian martial arts, not dissimilar to kung-fu). And they live at the base of a (dormant) volcano, which they say I can climb if I want (six hours up, then six hours back, apparently). Yes, that’s where I will spend five weeks this summer.

On Sunday afternoon we made the mind-numbing drive back to Jogja (stopping for a massage along the way), then we went to a grunge concert. The only word I can think of to describe it would be “hilarious.” The bands were all super-angry and had names like “Sporadic Beast” (which I misunderstood as “Sporadic Priest” and my friend thought was “Sporadic Piss,” much better names I think). The funniest thing was that nobody danced or did any of the regular things people do at concerts—they sat in their chairs silently and when every band was finished, they all clapped politely, like they were at the opera or something. What a strange world we live in.

Speaking of funny band names, Termana’s brother tried to start a band called “Rapist Clown.” Now that band is called “Orgasmatron.” Termana’s other brother, Hadi (who, by the way, just got into a university program to study film), is in a band called “Patrick the Bastard.” And finally, my personal favorite, the well-known Balinese band called…”Moist Vagina.”

No, I’m not making any of this up.

Now I’m in Bali, having successfully completed the language class in Jogja and beginning the next level. I am staying with a lovely family in Denpasar and taking a class on research methodology. And tomorrow we are going to see Patrick the Bastard live.

Thanks for reading, everyone!


  1. Sekaralas is on Google Earth- Horrible resolution but at least I can see where it is. Funny how a kid who hated being from the middle of nowhere has turned into someone who is off searching for the middle of nowhere!!!
    Great post!

  2. Thank God you have escaped that communist-infested rural backwater where you were held captive for all those years. That should give you plenty to talk about with those Catholic refugees from Burma. Your stories will probably make them feel better about their life.
    I hope you will be posting pictures and hotel recommendations from Bali. What about video? Any way to post some?
    Enjoy civilization while you can. Before you know it, you'll be back in Washington County.

  3. I loved reading your blog,
    you have already seen so much !!!
    I am looking forward to the next one :-)

  4. nice trip and nice experience Sophia...
    i hope next, i'll read good story abaut you in Ngawi, West Java... i tink it's will very intersting!
    Have fun!

  5. Do you think they're still a virgin these priests? Did they watch moist vagina life?