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essays | places


island stopping



Cianjur, Java / Indonesia · 2015   front yard rice



   Indonesia, for most tourists, is Bali, but Indonesia for most Indonesians is Java, so that’s where I got cozy. A cultural cluster, a religious rodeo, a natural narcotic, the archipelago’s centerpiece felt like a whirl of all 17,507 other Indonesian islands.


a glimpse

passages   SELFIE CULTURE | As Indonesia’s lively cultural heart, Java has been nourished by many bloodlines, all carrying their respective beliefs. Prehistoric Austronesian animists blended with Buddhists and Hindus coming in from the Asian mainland, followed by the advent of Islam and Christianity. While 90 % of the population is Muslim nowadays, remnants of the diverse ancestry can still be found in Javanese monuments and today’s people. Looking at these Muslim women taking Selfies at the world’s largest Buddhist temple Borobudur, I see union, born in a human dimension that underlies every religion, manifested in mannerisms we all share.

passages   THE REAL WORLD | Wherever people thrive on the togetherness and solidarity of their community rather than surrender to a rat race that promotes individualistic advance, where no one is caged in by the cradling comforts of luxurious homes, or locked in a materialistic bare-knuckle competition with their peers and neighbors, everyone gathers inside the outside world; the real world, one might say. With life unfolding under the open air, unobstructed by smothering ceilings, there is room for liveliness to dwell and the inertia of a cozy, lazy couch is abandoned for the vital vibrancy of the vicinity.


Ijen, Java / Indonesia · 2015   magma horizon






places / stories

Jakarta / Beautifully Ugly

well worth the visit: inner beauty and authentic travel


We all adore the world’s Venices, Grand Canyons, and Machu Picchus, while few postcards leave the Jakartas. But they are the places that grow on you and stay in you.





Cianjur / Volunteerish


Cianjur, Java / Indonesia · 2015   volunteer and local teacher



Cianjur, Java / Indonesia · 2015   more rice


Cianjur, Java / Indonesia · 2015   strolling


After a moment in Jakarta, I went on to Cianjur, where I had found a project to work with. A Jeffrey picked me up at some mall and we scootered through a nexus of alleyways that were so narrow that I was surprised my backpack didn’t get stuck between the walls, with me still strapped into it. That ride was enough to love Cianjur and there were many other reasons – Jeffrey and John who kinda helped out with the project, ish, in ways I couldn’t quite work out, Syifaa the local teacher and friend for life, every single meal except for that stinky fish Syifaa once brought for lunch which tasted like fermented ocean, that time we taught at a prison, that time we drove to that mind-shattering archaeological site, Jordan, the saxophone-playing Australian volunteer who actually spoke Bahasa, Simon, the other volunteer. It was a pity that all that love was overshadowed by the fact that the project was a total scheme, but even that is funny enough in retrospect.

On our first day, Jordan and I were sent to a different city, supposedly to teach at a school. Turned out it was actually a private language school, and it was enrollment day. We were ushered into some backroom where we changed into promotional t-shirts and minutes later we were presented on stage to some 40 mothers as teachers of an institution we had never set foot in before. They even made us dance, not unlike circus clowns, and for a moment, we were in Absurdistan. The situation was so perplexing that it took us a few to realize what was happening: our project leader had rented us out to a for-profit language school, where we were employed to deceive mothers with an affiliation that was less than non-existent. Not a great start, and several of our assignments over the next weeks were along those lines. It was my only negative volunteering experience, on paper, but it had enough going for it to chalk it up as a life experience.



Gunung Padang Megalithic Site, Java / Indonesia · 2015   scattered history



Java / Indonesia · 2015   bowling head


Yogyakarta  / Art Heart

After the dubious volunteering experience in Cianjur, I was glad to merge onto the beaten freeway – an upside down feeling for me that I’ve only experienced twice in six road years. I went to the nearest hostel with the dearest people. Laura and her pet snakes ran it with verve, and that moment’s version of the place included a whole bunch of kindhearts – a local Batik artist, a Japanese abroad-resident, a foreign-loving American, and two Singaporeans. Minute friends without expiry date. I was there for less than a handful of nights, but I’ve been carrying that smart card they gave me for six years now.



Yogyakarta, Java / Indonesia · 2015   two alone


Yogya was Java’s art heart, and Borobudur, the world’s largest Buddhist temple, was religion turned art – deep art that I had vast appreciation for, while the art of religion was lost on me. Even Buddhism, the least religious religion, the philosopher among the religions, has that cringeworthy element of eternity. Nirvana, promised land, call it what you will, but eternity, no matter how blissful, is hell, not heaven. I remember waiting for my bus from Yogya to wherever I was headed then for the better part of two hours, sitting on some little stool on a cute, dusty sidewalk, thinking to myself: imagine sitting here for 18,000 years. That would be torture without even a scratch from a pitchfork. And it might as well be 18 billion years, because both numbers are equally far from eternity. No thanks. I prefer to believe in endings.



Borobudur, Java / Indonesia · 2015   sitting on a lot of time


Borobudur, Java / Indonesia · 2015   temple terrace



Yogyakarta, Java / Indonesia · 2015   yellow angles


Ijen  / Sulfur Life


Ijen, Java / Indonesia · 2015   blue lava, if you can believe it


To get up in the middle of the night and climb into a volcano to see blue lave with a gas mask on, that’s a strenuous hike. But to do it every night and to toil down there, chopping sulfur rocks and breathing those fumes without protection, before carrying 150-pound reed baskets back up, and to smile so that maybe a tourist buys a piece for a little more than the pitiful market value, that’s a strenuous life and its life expectancy is about 50 years on average.



Ijen, Java / Indonesia · 2015   songs of the night



Ijen, Java / Indonesia · 2015   heavy haul



Ijen, Java / Indonesia · 2015   growing clouds


Bali  / When I Didn't Die


Kuta, Bali / Indonesia · 2015   the night below


There are 1.5 miles between Bali and Java, but the strait might as well be an ocean separating worlds. The busy Javanese noise, the kind madness, the sweet grime and dust of a people in motion, bustling and combusting – it all drowns in the strait and washes up on the other side as a washed-out sleeve. Everything is a little fainter on the Balinese side, easier and gentler, more decorated and made up. Something easy to love for the vacationers and expats. But it was very possible to get away from the hypes, the Kutas and Ubuds, and there was more beauty than anyone could ever fully digest.



Bali / Indonesia · 2015   his beach


Bali / Indonesia · 2015   country road


My most unforgettable Bali moment was when I didn’t die. Driving a baby two-wheeler all across the little gingko leaf of an island, that rabid South(east) Asian traffic madness had me back in its fangs, and the one second I let my guard down, it almost swallowed me whole. Crossing some bridge, some damned, magnetizing landscape pulled my eyeballs to the left, and when I yanked them back onto the road, I wasn’t alone in my lane anymore. A gambling overtaker came the other way, gambling with my little scooter life much more than with his truck life. If I hadn’t swerved to the left right then, and enough to marry the sidewalk, I wouldn’t be telling the same story now, or any story. But I did have nine lives during my journey, or at least the four that I counted: this one, the gas explosion, the abyss, the one before that (I won’t count the time I got a little run over in India – that wasn’t even close).



Bali / Indonesia · 2015   bays like these




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