An Afternoon in Jogja: Sultan (Who?) Kraton (What?) Surprises All Around

Indonesia’s heart maybe Jakarta but Yogyakarta possesses its soul.  Yogyakarta or “Jogja” as it is more commonly called has many universities and is a cultural center of dance and arts. It is the second most visited area by tourists in the country after Bali.   It is also a district that continues to be governed by a Sultan.  Who knew?

Lovely Detail from the Kraton Grounds

We visited the Sultan’s Kraton which is a busy palace complex where many people  still live and work.  Here is the bustling street as we approached the entrance.

Th sultan and his family now live in private apartments on the complex grounds.

A View Towards the Sultan’s Private Residence

We had a lovely local guide who showed us around.  We were able to see many gifts the sultans had been given from various countries at the time of his coronation.  She was quick to point out the America had not sent a gift.  Hmmm… I may have to talk to Barry about that one.  He studied in Jakarta and should be more clued in.

The current sultan’s father allowed the nascent Indonesian government to lead their rebellion against the Dutch from the palace grounds.  He was apparently very popular.  He also had four main concubines that bore him many children.

The current sultan has tried to bring the monarchy into the modern age by eliminating polygamy. His single wife bore him five children but they are all girls which apparently eliminates them from royal contention. Well baby steps is still some progress I suppose for women rights.  Plus being the male heir has some drawbacks… Our guide pointed out the current sultan’s picture on the day of his circumcision at age 12!

A view of one of the hall’s. It is not clear if this is where above mentioned “snipping” occurred

One of the highlights of the Kraton tour was a performance of traditional Javanese dancer.  There were many drums involved.

The dancers wore beautiful costumes

The children were very captivated by the performance.  Maybe some day you will visit the Kraton and see a talented drummer who stands out just a bit with blue eyes.

Now that would be surprising.

Borobudur: An Ancient Monument to Buddha at a Lively Time

Borobudur-The name sounds mystical, like something taken straight out of a Tolkien book, and when you gaze upon it you can easily imagine the massive structure in a magical world.

Borobudur was completed in the 9th century is claimed to be the world’s largest Buddhist structure.  We hired a guide and driver to explore the temple located about 90 minute drive from Yogyakarta.

Carvings tell of the life of Buddha

An Elegant Waterspout

The monument has become a place of pilgrimage.  The journey for devotees begins at the base and continues through a winding path to the top.  There are ten terraces which represent the life stages one must go through to reach enlightenment. The stairs are steep because as our guide pointed out nirvana is not meant easy to achieve.

The most important occasion observed at Borobudur is Vesak Day, which is sometimes informally called “Buddha’s Birthday,” but actually represents more.  The holiday commemorates the day the religious leader was born, achieved enlightenment and  passed away.  We happened to visit Borobudur the day before Vesak and the monument was abuzz with preparations and travelers.

As one of the few foreign tourists, we once again became photo props.   The children, who were the youngest blonde-hair blue-eyed ones around, had their photo taken with different groups of travelers around almost ever corner we turned.  They handled the attention gracefully but after a while when Sydney tired of the paparazzi she held out the palm of her hand and said a firm “enough”.  Fortunately she is easily bribed and in this one Sydney poses with a “Chupa-Chup” her favorite candy.  I particularly love the woman’s gentle smile.

Aidan appears very content with the beautiful ladies.  I fear he is going it be a handful in his teenage years, even at five he can never say no to a lovely woman’s request.

During a playful moment, Sydney shows off the traditional Batik cloth we were given to wear.  

Aidan smiles as he is attacked by a stone lion.

It is amazing to recall all the wonderful monuments we have visited over the past five months and I marvel at what the children have learned.   A few days ago when Aidan was playing with his trains I overheard him say in his firm Sir Topham Hatt’s voice “No Thomas you cannot do that yet.  You know Christmas is after Buddha’s Birthday.”  I think Borobudur has had a lasting effect on us all.

Indonesia: A Land of Many Surprises

On a clear day I can see Indonesia from my house.   I know Tina Fey/Sarah Palin pops into my mind too…but I really can.   However, until last week when I visited Yogyakarta and Jakarta  I could not have told you more that a few small facts about the country. What I learned both shocked an amazed me.

#1 Indonesia is the fourth most populous country in the world just after the US and it is the largest Muslim country (nearly 90% of its 240m people). During our visit to Indonesia the country felt surprisingly vibrant, moderate and progressive.  Contrary to my perceptions, many women did not wear head scarves and those that did displayed their dress with an individual flare.  The people were extraordinarily friendly.  At several tourist areas we could not go three minutes without having our photos taken with fellow Indonesian tourists.  This was at the Buddhist ancient temple Borobudur.

#2. Indonesia is extremely diverse but it is a democracy with an elected legislature and president.  The country consists of 17,508 islands of which 6,000 are inhabited.  There are 300 distinct native ethnicities and 742 different languages and dialects.  In 1998 the people ousted their dictator of three decades, Suharto, and managed in a short time to form functional democracy.  Of course there are growing pains but given the diversity of the population it is amazing that this somehow works.

A women sells snake-skin fruit popular in Indonesia

#3. The economy is growing quickly and the country is very tech savvy.

Since the fall of the dictator Suharto in 1998, the per capita GDP of Indonesia has increased by 500% in US dollars. Amazingly, today Indonesia has the second-largest number of Facebook users of any country int he world.

During our visit, as part of his work Andy had the opportunity to meet with many financial institutions.   He remarked how entrepreneurial and optimistic the people were that he met.  Some of the most interesting visits he had were with banks that give out microloans in Yogyakarta.  The bank managers even took him to meet some of their customers.  The people were so excited to have him visit they took photos and served food.

Andy noted how many women he encountered had positions of power.  At one bank the managers were all women and the customers were men.  Here is a photo of a women who used the bank loan to expand her business.

This man took a $1000 loan to by a few washers and dryers to start a laundromat to offer a better life for his child.  Andy usually meets with people such as CEOs, who are removed from the receiving ends of the loans, so I think meeting local people was truly a treat for him.

#4.  Natural Disasters are more common than I realized and more devastating.  Our guide in Yogyakarta said the local people used to be known as “those that did not stop smiling, however since 2006 we have not had much to smile about.” Certainly I remembered Indonesia was so hard hit in the 2004 tsunami.  However, I had forgotten or completely missed that Yogyakarta suffered a devastating earthquake in 2006 that killed 5700 people, injured 37,000 and caused $3.1 billion of damage.

There are also many active volcanos.   This is a  view of Mount Merapi from our hotel in Yogyakarta.  It last erupted in October 2010.  This was the worst eruption in 130 years there.  As we drove around we saw evidence of the continued clean up efforts.

#5.  Many Indonesians seem to really like the US.  They are proud that Barack Obama was a student there. American movies and media are prevalent.  The first Imax opened for commercial movies last week and “The Avengers” was a huge draw.

At a very modern mall in Jakarta I stumbled upon the @America Cultural Center.  It is sponsored by the American embassy as a way to promote interactions with the  Indonesians  and Americans.   I went in the center with the kids out of curiosity.  Ironically they feature an American city every few weeks and this month was Boston.  It was amusing to see photos of where we live and play posted on the walls of this Indonesian mall.

A copy of the brochure I picked up at the first high tech American culture center.

I am intrigued by Indonesia and excited about exploring this fascinating country more in this blog and in further upcoming trips.

Sunday in Kampang Glam: Singapore’s Muslim Soul

Arabs were some of the first traders to Singapore.  They brought their Islamic religion and converted many indigenous Malays.  Many settled in the Kampang Glam area which remains a Muslim enclave in Singapore.  Friends spoke highly of the shops and restaurants.    We had not yet been there so we set off on Sunday to explore another unique section of the island.

We started at the aptly named Arab Street.  Muslim influence is predominant in the area and reflected in the shops   Shops owners displayed beautiful fabrics and carpets and the merchants proudly displayed their wares.

There was also the occasional man-made rug.  Aidan tried desperately to convince us that this one should end up in his room.  Too bad it would be very difficult to ship 😉

Sultan Mosque is the premier mosque in Singapore and a very prominent landmark. It has a long history that stretches back to 1824.

We had read in a guide-book that the mosque was only open to the public in the afternoon.  There were many people entering and prayer services were in session.  We were standing out front observing from a distance.  Soon a docent invited us to come inside.  The worshipers were exceptionally welcoming and informative about their religion.  Photography was also permitted which is fantastic so I can share some images of the activity we witness and especially the beauty of the women in their headscarves.

After our visit to the mosque we strolled down Bussorah Street and found a place to eat some Middle Eastern food.

Every weekend we try to expose the children to new ethnic foods.  This day was falafel and humus. We also let they chose an item.  Sydney wanted the “balloon” bread she saw pictured in the menu.  I must say she chose wonderfully.

One of the best aspects about living in Singapore is the ease of experiencing different cultures and exposing the children to the breadth of what the world offers.  The people in the Kampong Glam and especially the mosque were so kind and welcoming.  Tomorrow we leave for Indonesia, which will be the first predominantly Muslim country Aidan and Sydney have traveled.  This past Sunday was a great introduction to what may lie ahead.

Singapore’s Asian Civilization Museum: Handicrafts, Heirlooms and Hookahs

Happy Labor Day!

May 1 is a national Singapore holiday.  This meant for Andy he did not have to physically go to the office but because few other counties acknowledge this day his email account was still flooded by work from the States and London.   Oh well!  Such is the life of an expat.   We did, however, take advantage of some free time to visit the Asian Civilizations Museum.

Singapore today is a melting pot of nations and has been an important worldwide trading port for generations.  This museum represents various cultures of Asia and contains a remarkable diversity of wonderful treasures.  The galleries are generally separated by geographical areas and the displays are lovely.

This is from the southeast Asia area.

Beautiful Stone Carving from India

Currently they have a special exhibit of artifacts recovered from a 9th century AD Chinese shipwreck discovered as recently as 1998 in the Java Sea.

Detail of a Flask from the Tang Shipwreck

There is also a special display of fabrics from India from the 1400s to 1900s.  The intricacy of the details is stunning.

There were many interactive screens.  This one had the jewelry displayed in a case with a black background but would illuminate where the pieces belonged on a statue when you pushed a button.

In the Indonesian cultural display a video of a traditional dancer played behind the instruments.

Several areas, specifically designated for children,  provided educational opportunities about different cultural centers around Asia.  The displays included costumes, books and play objects.  The kids really enjoyed these and the photo opportunities were priceless.  Here Aidan and Sydney dress the part of patrons in a traditional Chinese Tea House.

In “India”, Aidan took the role of a maharaja very seriously. Sydney acted as his guard.

Drums boomed in the Nomadic Middle Eastern tent.

Sydney looked like trouble was brewing behind the drapes.

Aha! They found the hookah pipe!  The children came up with the pose spontaneously which simultaneously amused and frightened Andy and me.    We can only hope that they never look this way in college 🙂

We were all impressed with the museum.   The collections fantastic and the kids loved being part of the journey.   It was a wonderful reminder of some places we have been, will travel to or hope to explore some day all under one roof.   Now if we can only keep them off the hookah….