So our university tour of Indonesia finished in Jogjakarta, a city that I liked immediately. It helped that we had a great turn-out for our final lecture at Gajah Mada University and some really challenging questions. Then a group of students who organised the seminar (led a groovy punk-loving girl named Alfina) kindly took us for good food and a tour of the Kraton, where the Sultan of Jogja still lives, with the ceremonial army and a legion of staff.
A previous Sultan gave Sukharno and the Republican government asylum in the 40s, and established Gajah Mada University in the grounds of the Kratong, so Jogja has a special administrative status that continues to this day. Our guide, a Gamelan music teacher who’s toured the world, explained that now the Sultan works to promote peace and Javanese culture—the kratong now offers free courses in Gamelan, dancing and puppetry. To demonstrate, he pointed out the pillars of the coronation room which contain symbols of Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism in syncretistic fusion, and explained that his family celebrate two major festivals, Eid and Christmas as he is a muslim and his wife is a christian. He went on to pronounce that all religions are as valid as each other and that it’s only the “stupid mafia politicians” who cause religious divisions. It’s rumoured that the current Sultan might run for the Indonesian presidency; if what I saw is indicative of his manifesto, all the best to him from me if he chooses to stand.
That theme of liberal egalitarianism continued the following day (a day off!) when we visited Borobudur, an eighth century temple that reminded me of, but pre-dates, Angkor Wat in Cambodia which I visited last year. Our guide was a lady in a hijab named Aysha, who obviously venerated the monument and didn’t hesitate to scold local youngsters who weren’t showing sufficient respect when climbing to the central stupa. There was also the surreal experience of finding all the local people’s cameras turning from the beautiful monument and onto me, while seemingly every schoolchild in the district quizzed me as to my opinion of Indonesian culture, food and Manchester United’s future prospects.
We also had a great meet-up with loads of local students, some of whom made me somewhat nervous when they examined this site’s CSS and quizzed me about my choice of image replacement methods. Jogja has a lively blogging community which just won an award of 10 million rupiah for their efforts and which meets face-to-face every Friday on Malioboro, the main drag to the Kraton. There was knowledge and appreciation of English designers, and excitement that Jon Hicks has joined Opera. I pointed them to some sites they hadn’t been to: 24 ways, A List Apart, CSS3.info and PPK.
So now I’m just about to go out with Zi Bin for food, and just possibly a couple of Bintangs for our final night in Indonesia. (Putri got sick and has returned home to her family for couple of days.) My suitcase is swelling with some framed carved stone copies of Borobudur temple reliefs and some CDs: Mulan Jameela‘s ballsy “Wonder Woman”, and some traditional Javanese music which I find relaxing to work to. Best of all is the cheesy earworm Indo-pop by “Bukan Permainan” by Gita Gutawa. I dare you to watch her live and not hum the damn chorus for a week.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Jogja is my favourite city in Indonesia, as that would do a disservice to the other universities that welcomed us so graciously, but I do feel a special affinity with the city, despite its earthquakes, recent tornado and the constantly smoking volcano that looms above it.
So, farewell Jogja and Indonesia: terima kasih (thank you very much).