There's not much I can write about Yogyakarta; the first half I was still recovering from Bali/Belly, by the time I got to Prambanan, a Hindu answer to Borobudur, I was again annoyed by tourism. I dare not undermine the cultural importance and the aesthetic magnificence of these millennium-old architectures (as you see above), it's the endless display of modern narcissism and/or constant hunger for attention that makes me wanna kill. Day 2, after I got through Borobudur and then my toilet run, my mind started going like #HAL and I had to sit staring at the ground for good 15min trying to remain conscious, then decided to bail. The Following signs and arrows for keluar the exit, I was led into a maze with walls of souvenir shops with no end in sight. Every corner I turned I found myself in the exact same fucking view, reminiscent of the dungeons in (insert an old-school RPG here) and the locals walking up to me with arts and crafts in hands like zombies. My brain capacity reduced my vision to about 16bit resolution, and I desperately need a potion. I managed to get out, and seeked the nearest establishment where they serve soup. Need to rehydrate. Now.
The cafe I ended up at had exactly that, with a little more fat in broth and a calming view of rice patties both of which did the trick, plus the side of yet another off-key chant from a nearby mosque which added a quiet comic relief. Nice to know that not every Muslim pastor can nail the micro-tonal intricacies, but I'd also have to question why they have to give a microphone to those who obviously cannot sing. Nuri, a shy painter and a Jogja native, told me about the time her family used to make fun of these not-so-musically-inclined faithfuls which reminded me of my family doing the same for the Buddhist ministers at funerals, muttering "Poor Jr didn't get the voice of his dad etc." A much humanized look on Muslim culture has been a nice breeze in this radicalized and divisive climate we live in. Girls sticking their cellphones between their ear and hijab chatting with friends hands-free, chillin' at a total hipster coffeeshop with their male counterparts, or hijab being a part of their fashion statement as displayed at massive shopping malls that I visited in Jakarta - none surprising, just a reassuring outlook tha twe in the US oughta already be familiar with.
Jakarta feels more secular than Bali, and of course WAY more capitalist. Most familiar brands are present with some Japanese ones mixed in (such as HokBen, a nostalgic bento box stands that I used to frequent back in school), and much more sanitation provided on all aspects of life which was a much-appreciated change. It's essentially another metropolis with all modern amenities including one that's very distinctive; GO-JEK. With the level of congestion equal to what I saw in HCMC, moving around can be more time-consuming than you'd expect from the actual stance you travel. GO-JEK, a motorbike Uber fits naturally in this environment (four-wheel service is also offered) but they take this further; they become your runner. They'll get you food from any food stand on the street, rolls of TP or your meds from Alfamart, pick up your shipment then drop it off at DHS, come give you a massage and so on. Too bad this cannot be adopted to Los Angeles because the drivers are too fucking dumb and entitlement-filled to check their side mirrors when making a right.
Wish I had arrived in Jakarta earlier (and not gotten a long layover in Singapore the next day) is where I stand honestly. The 8hr train ride was a bit redundant of what I had already seen a lot in Bali/Jogja on the motor, and the seat was pretty rough. The commuter train was Tokyo-packed with way less stops and taxing than I wanted it to be. Upon arriving at Mayumi and Ken's gorgeous residence in which I was greeted by homemade oyakodon, having gone thorough all the ups/downs of Bali and Jogja, I got teary with the level of comfort and the hospitality I felt. And again, the fortune of having solid people like these two in life cannot be understated. I always wanna explore and on the move, but some conversations are just too priceless to replace with "sightseeing" or the third and the biggest endless pool I've been in before anyone put their foot in, which I enjoyed thoroughly.
Or Bakso, one of the best bowls of noodle soup I've had since I don't remember when, delivered by none other than GO-JEK from Pondok Bakso which I failed to photograph after we put them together ourselves. The word refers to meatballs, and as far as I can tell they come in different serving styles but noodle soup being the most popular. It has two layers; the outer shell made from minced beef probably boiled, then on the inside they put seasoned chicken pieces for texture contrast. Where it gets real, however, is the hot sauce you mix in with the broth - Mayumi tastes it for a bit and goes up in flames. I laugh, but once I start taking a whack at it myself, I'm right there with her burning up. This is one of the spiciest things that I ever put in my mouth, and we only put half of what they gave us. With the best spicy food, though, the heat is only to enhance the actual flavor and not overpower, and it's pretty amazing that the taste is able to cut through this much heat drawing me back into wanting more. The soup is luring me into the fire, or rather, grabbing my neck and pulling me into it almost violently. CAN'T. STOP. Although enjoying in the modern comfort of AC, the heat is giving you an illusion of sitting at a street stalls while cars and motors passing by behind you. I'd be lying if I didn't fantasize about the experience of it, but the fantasy or the romanticism of travel is not driving me anymore; gotten that out of my system already, I'd rather let things happen organically.
When Ken asked if I had been backpacking, upon facing my unshaven, tanned, rather exhausted look, I had to stop and wonder what it is that I've been doing. People ask me or assume that I'm on a vacation. Business-or-pleasure question is easier to answer cause I can just say both, but is this a vacation? Certainly so from my colleagues' perspectives since I'm not "working." It definitely didn't feel that way in Sukawati with my daily lesson, but maybe a little in Candidasa, and here in Jakarta as well. But as a whole, this entire Southeast Asian AND my Central European expedition, what am I doing? What is so different about the trip I'm taking from an Aussie surfer seeking that perfect wave (nah), or a middle-age LA divorcée on a self exploration retreat (warmer), or David Lee Roth going undercover in the streets of Tokyo "scouting for a prospective apartment" (the budget and the status)? And why am I so feverishly writing about this?
Thanks, really, for reading though #blessed
Is the book by Adrian Vickers that I started reading on my flight here, and planned to finish but was unable because (read previous posts). While I haven't gotten to the real point of the book, this analogy echoes what I have seen so far, with the limited time, knowledge and resource at my disposal aka I'm just a noob here.
The first thing you see driving around the streets are the massive and extraordinary statues of Ramayana characters for which they built roundabouts, are paid by not-so-enthusiastic taxpayers seeing them as the product of corruption. It is rather ill-fitting in the background of visibly poor neighborhood with street vendors pushing carts on foot. Cityside is by no means picturesque and not pleasant to walk around or move around unless you trust your motorbike riding skill, or trust a stranger and sit on the back of his bike, or be patient sitting in a traffic inside 4-wheels. Most of the streetside warung probably gets an F in LA, let alone the street vendors. The restrooms are polar-opposite of what the name stands for, constantly attacking you with odor and splat of unknown liquids, and in the case of westerners with the required yoga squat (which will help you in the long term). Last but not least; hundreds of beat-up dogs on the street will tear your heart out. They did mine. Did not see anyone beating them up but I'd have to assume they get horrendous treatment due to the belief that they're reincarnated sinners.
The picturesque parts of the island are getting sold to resorts and villas, rapidly developed/destroyed or already infested by Eat, Pray, Love readers, surfer dudes, neo-hippies and new rich. Every spot where Google Maps lists as "Tourist Attraction" there are tour busses (which are too large to be let through around here to begin with) full of East Asians and motors with white couples walking up to rows of stores selling batik clothings, woodcarvings, shadow puppets, cheap sunglasses, Bintang beers, Bali kopi and espressos, crepes, coconuts, good toilets and the list never ends. Tourism has always been the center of their economy and sometimes the influence on the culture; kecak performance that I kept seeking out was a trance ritual for (virgin) sacrifices in the times of disaster, which later reconstructed by a westerner to the story of Ramayana and shortened from 3 days to and hour. Now it comes with out-of-context firewalking part at the end to spice it up for non-nerds who get sick of topless old men going chak-chak-chak. That being said, as the government invests more on attracting foreign visitors which doubled in numbers in the last decade. Outer islands on the east side of Bali still remain comparatively untouched, but once the word is out as you know it doesn't take long for it to spread these days.
One thing I admire the most; #zerofucksgiven level = Bali.
Maybe because it's in their bones to think that "everything's gonna be alright" or their religious nature, or that their concept of life is so damn simple. Simple joy of raising a family as I witnessed in Dewi/Dek Bang and Eron, of the connection with community as I witnessed in Banjar, of "playing music worthy of Gods' love" as I witnessed in Sarga the guru. I wanted to play it right not just because I wanna sound good, but so I can hear him play his Sanshi, the counterpoint that sounds like Bach was on acid and speed at the same time. And they do work hard for these simple joys, often unassumingly and naturally. They bring their kids to Banjar so they get exposed to the traditional culture which is gradually pushed aside by internet and smartphones in the hope or the expectation of them eventually carrying the torch in maintaining the banjar, the basis of their community. The parents don't scold if the kids spend the majority of time with the technologies (facebook is blowing the fuck up yall), but do make sure they're there (as I saw the same group of kids all four nights). They work hard to create and maintain this paradise which consists of thounds of these small communities, and which we as individualists often take advantage of by sneaking a peek at this "exotic" and "ancient" culture thus helping them financially and hurting them socio-ecomonically. I believe that it gets worse where we the visitors never get to see, if we ignore to respect what they respect and value beyond the surface and the formality, to appreciate what they offer us and what we have. That's the least I can do before I plan my return.
As I danced with the devil inside occasionally poking at my bowel, I had to bid farewell to the place and the people that I had come to love. There was a time that I questioned my decision to spend as long as I did in one place without hopping all over, but now I wished I could stay longer. It's good that I'm leaving to kind of make sense of what happened here, what I saw and listened, what I was taught. And I will be back to see these faces again.
Disclaimer; the following post includes graphic and disturbing details which might cause some to react physically. Readers discretion advised.
The real Bali Belly, so I was told, comes in two folds; diarrhea and vomiting. I have not puked yet but I've been on the verge, so I believe it when they say this is a mild case. STILL THOUGH; my appetite has been severely reduced, and my energy extremely low. I can see how much liquid I'm losing every time I go, but rehydrating is difficult since I don't feel like putting anything down my digestive system, even water. I do it because I know I have to, but the discomfort is always there. What makes matters worse, which I've been kinda avoiding to discuss, is the state of bathrooms around here. There's a few things in our modern life that I cannot stand such as food waste and selfies, but filthy bathrooms pretty much tops the list. In that sense, Bali has been pretty rough; fortunately the pad I've been staying at has a nice one, but I pretty much avoid going at any local warung (store/restaurant) or household. Now the squatters we used to see in Japan, its that they do not use toilet paper and instead comes with a water hose. I don't even wanna know how they do the business, but I'm assuming it's the DIY washlet-type concept (why left hand is considered filthy and never to be used when passing food around). The worst part for me is the wet floor and/or seat, and they almost never wear real shoes. Sometimes barefoot. Every time I have to run, which often comes pretty abruptly, I have to see and be in this for at least a few minutes holding myself from hurling. Just writing about his subject gives me a headache.
Sanitation/cleanliness standard here differs from the west. People litter all the time, pubic urination is seen fairly often, and the first warning you read about Bali is "dont drink the water," "use bottoled water to brush your teeth even," which is puzzling when I'd assume they use the same water to cook and grow crops like the delicious papaya (in season) Ive been eating, and those are safe? You cannot eat anywhere without finding hair or bugs half the time, and even if you don't there's always a few flies flying in and park their asses on your fried fish. 100% of the time. Or ants. Or spiders. All of the above.
Let's turn back time like Cher wished she could;
The first suspect is Sukawati Night Market which I have been wanting to check out but somewhat reluctant because of this exact reason, but with Maria's suggestion we grabbed cap cay (a stir-fried veggies in a tomato-based? soup), mie goreng (a fried noodle and a local favorite) and martabak (a deep fried savory crepe of sort) all of which were delicious and cheap AF. 2 stands we grabbed these from were busy and also MariaWati-approved so I felt good afterwards, going to bed soundly with my spider friend above my pillow. Next morning I woke up fine, had my lesson with Sarga and had another decadent lunch by Mrs Sarga (which never got me sick before, but I cannot rule out the chance that this might have put me over the fried food intake limit) and hopped on my motor en route Mt Batur, an active volcano with the last eruption in 2000.
The second; a fish dish provided by my guide Eron's brother who has taken over the business from their dad, Nyoman, a longtime friend of Maria. Everything in the dish was locally harvested, freshly cooked and vividly-seasoned with ginger and other spices which I failed to ask about since I was already feeling pretty weak at this point. As much as I enjoyed it, this might have been a little harsh on my system especially after the aforementioned goreng festival which, come to think of it, has been going on since Day 1. In the last 14 days, I probably had 2 non-fried meals. I haven't done that in years. Or possibly never.
The third; a simple good ol exhaustion. One misconception I had about Bali was that its hot and humid at all times, as in Hawaii. WRONG. Though dry season, the nights have been periodically chilly and maybe because I went up to the 1000+m altitude with my motor, I was ready for some hot shower when I arrived at Batur. The modest accommodation I requested and Eron provided for me would've been fine if I was feeling strong, but the hot shower was WAY TOO HOT (no regular water in the pipe). and the local hot spring, a main tourist attraction was not hot enough (I haven't gone to a hot enoug spring for my japanese ass anywhere outside of the homeland though) so by the time I was in bed for a required sleep, I felt undone. Then it started to hit me - the devil. The monster. The bug. The alarm was set at 3:30am to give ourselves enough time for 6:30 sunrise at the summit, I didn't completely pass out till about 1:30am cause I was too busy splashing water out of my butt. So much so that not only I ran out of TP but also my Hana-celeb (the softest and the best facial tissue ever created, of course by japanese) and the wet nap. Nevertheless I felt somewhat rested when Eron came knocking on my door, and hit the darkened road with his 8-year-old son who's already a 2-year-vetreran equipped with his own flashlight. Within 30min or so, the beast started to growl underneath. I tried to power through for another 15 or so until I felt lightheaded and out of breath. I admit that I'm not an avid hiker, but this must be the demon inside me sucking all my energy and liquid out. So I tapped out; I asked Eron for a bag of tissues and ran into the bushes in between other tourist packs passed us by. As I gazed into the tropical vegetation converged with the darkness of pre-dawn, listening to cicadas and crickets with my digestive system screaming and wailing, I questioned my ability to continue. Eron told me its merely 1/4 of the way. Is it better to turn back now than too late? What would he have to do if I fell unconscious and deep into the crater? Maybe I feel better after this purge?
When I got back on the road, Eron hands me a pill. I'm praying to Gods, Buddha and the Sun that it kicks in soon enough, but WRONG; within 15min or so there's another emergency but I barely kept it together until we got to a rest area with and a bathroom. THIS TOILET THOUGH; possibly the worst one I have ever seen. Having to use this AND PAY FOR THIS was one of the most dehumanizing moments of my adult life. I know, #firstworldproblem but you didn't see it. It was pitch black, soaking wet but no running water, and smelled like where all the Neo-nazis, the trust fund kids and their parents should be buried alive (especially after handing mere 75 cents to the family of five that also sells water and snacks in a bamboo hut at 4am, holding a newborn). As atrocious as it was, after this your options is limited to bushes again. Better turn back now? Fuck I'm not sure. Fuck I'd rather go back. But FUCKIT IMA DO THIS. It'd be a helluva way to go if die on an active volcano in Bali. Let's just write a note on my phone not to let anyone involved - cause all this time, Eron had been nothing but chill. Calm. Composed. He didn't sway me either way; go back or go forth. I had already liked this guy after the conversation we had last night about how he's seen and guided hundreds of tourists including Indonesians hiking up the mountain he's known since age 8, peaking into the world outside of the cardela and beyond. He speaks the best English by far of all Balinese I have met, which would probably enable him to get a job elsewhere if he chooses, but he chose here; a simple life with his family and friends by the beautiful volcano, a polar opposite of what I pursued my entire life (and forward). The most Balinese I have met has been pretty level-headed, and he is a fine specimen. Okay, maybe I'm more calm now too. Let's see how far I can push myself.
This is when Chucky joined our crew; a Kintamani dog owned by Eron's cousin and a fellow guide. He probably was around with his master on the hike, found us three and somehow decided to come with us. He'd stray for a few minutes digging shit up or hanging with other groups (but never letting strangers pet him) but he would come back to check in with us, or maybe to witness this pale-looking East Asian dude on his last breath. Regardless of his intention, his continuing presence gave me some level of comfort and what do you know? The higher we went up, the better and more energeized I got. The sky turned lighter, you could see Danau Batur the lake greeting us and the mood turned lighter too. My legs were starting to feel the burn but not so much my belly. I could actually crack a few jokes without catching my breath. Maybe he helped me grow a pair (Kintama in Japanese means balls) ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ A few hours and some sore muscles later, my pain was rewarded.
I wanna live. I wanna live on a mountain. Especially after the aforementioned excruciating hours, I dont wanna go back down. Also, going down is also gonna be a bitch. In one of the few huts they set up I enjoy a small breakfast that Eron prepared for me and a cup of hot tea. For this moment, I'd do it again. Preferably sans Bali belly. Actually never with Bali belly. There was a group of guides singing Balinese songs (a lot of which is political from what I was told) and a few country tunes, but the moment a white guy grabbed a guitar it turned into a sing-along to Wonderwall. #facepalm and he didn't even know the changes but ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Going down certainly was a B, half way through my thighs and calves started to curse at me, but not my belly. I count my blessings and made it down to the village, went back to the lukewarm spa with Eron and his boy, and hopped back on my motor heading to Sukawati.
My arrival home was followed by shower, the cancellation of my afternoon lesson and an 18hr sleep. When I woke up the next morning, I still felt groggy and immediately heard the gnarl. Pelvis has left the building.
Soundchaser/two-time Independent Music Awards finalist. New EP "Six Songs from Insomnia" is out on all major streaming platforms.