Faces of Yogya

Faces, places and traces of life between our journey from Pengandaran to Solo.

Revisiting our Java images, we thought it would be interesting to tell of some tales which were missing from our earlier Java posts. This post is written by both Cumi & ciki.

leaves for feed

Driving from Pengandaran to the train station, we saw this man picking plants as feed for animals. We were surprised to see such lush, green leaves just growing wild and crazy by the dusty roadside. What a blessing from God – that He provides free animal food in abundance like that!

To get to Yogya, we had to arrange for train tickets from a shop near the hotel on Pangandaran beach. Land transfer is included with the tickets. Rates are fixed. The train stop was only 1hour away at Sidareja Station and the journey was pleasant since we were the only passengers. We drove on small roads (but they could have been highways to the locals) passing through little villages and paddy fields while exchanging words sporadically with our driver Joshua, a Chinese in his early 30’s.


The first person we met was Joshua, a Chinese man in his early 30’s who was our transfer driver

Joshua only spoke Indonesian like many around his age and younger – a product of former President Suharto’s discriminative assimilation policy towards the Chinese Indonesians. Chinese schools, culture and media were controlled or closed down during his reign. Our driver’s tale is a simple one. In a school in Jakarta, he fell in love with a schoolmate. Having had a little too much fun, he became an unexpected father. He took up his responsibility and chose to marry the girl whose family was from Pengandaran. The wife was muslim but this didn’t deter him from marrying her.

Throughout our journey here, it was an eye opening experience to mingle with the locals in a country somewhat similar to ours in terms of race, religion and socio-political power yet we are amazed by the subtle differences where the similarities were.  In Indonesia, you do not have to convert just for marriage although both sides of the families may insist that there should be a single religion to consummate the religious vows. From some internet reading, couples not wishing to convert may opt for civil registration instead of one from the religious office.

Well as you’ve probably guessed, Joshua didn’t convert and lives a happy life with his spouse until today, together with his 3 daughters who have been brought up in Islam. He adds that he would not oppose if his children chooses another religion. For us, hearing this from a man on the street is a startling contrast from one that sits in power. Just like many of our countrymen, when questioned on Who or What are Malaysians..? we wonder how much difference would it make if religious conversions were up to a person’s choice and not by law.

The second person we chanced upon was the friendly street tout Tom

Walking out of Yogyakarta train station, we were set upon by a friendly street tout Tom, recommending us accommodation and tours. No matter how hard we tried to shake him off, he kept following us and eventually, we gave in and just let him lead us to the accommodations we wanted to checkout. Most were full so we followed him to his ‘selections’ or places where he probably received a commission from but none were to our.. erm.. ciki’s standards :P. Eventually we settled on the newly refurbished, antiquated hotel, Hotel Kota. Beautiful interiors.

Java 1

Our friendly tout was adamant on us looking for him for any tours, stating he would hook us up with the right people and the right price then  informing us where he is ‘stationed’ so we know where to look for him.  His persistence demonstrated a desperation for our business so we made a mental note of his whereabouts for contact later. He turned out to be an OK fellow anyways. Unfortunately, we didn’t capture a picture of him. I suppose you will find him mingling with any travelers at the bars.


We roamed around Yogya town center that night looking gudeg which is a must have while in Yogya. Nothing much interesting on the streets expect hundreds of becak or rickshaws and plenty of people and cars. There was a fun fair in town but we skipped it until the final day.

During the exploration, cumi enjoyed his cup of night cap here – hot dairy milk, a slice of ginger with an egg stirred in and some sugar to taste. Don’t you wish there was a stall like this at home? He wishes there were fresh milk stalls like this in Malaysia since he can’t take caffeine based drinks.

You may read more about Yogya late night dining in our previous post here. Day 4: Jogging around Jogjakarta


The third colorful personality we encountered was also a taxi driver, Heikel

In the collage above, you see our Borobudur muslim driver Heikel brooding over his future. Tom the tout hooked us up with Heikel.  He is from Sumatra but he got married in Yogyakarta. He tells us he lives with his wife and child  together with an ailing mother-in-law. He actually lived in Kuala Lumpur for a long time, working for better pay while his wife stayed on here. He returned back to Indonesia due to work permit expiration and took up the taxi service just to ‘do something’ while his permit application gets renewed.

Heikel says, “tough times in Indonesia” and “Money is better in KL”. In Malaysia, he works for a cleaning company and apparently he is well liked by the boss due to his hardworking and honest nature (I think we could vouch for that). He was an entrepreneuring man as well. He knows the value of land and shares with us his plans for the future while he pays his dues now. He bought a piece of land in Sumatra, planted with palm oil trees, has someone taking care of the place while waiting for the fruit harvest one day.

It was a joy talking to him especially during the traffic snarls. We talked about freedom of religion as well as the comparisons of living in KL. He says that during Suharto’s reign, although corrupt, provided a lot of business opportunities for the people. Unfortunately now, it is different.

Heikel also says crime in Indonesia is more controlled than in Malaysia. He’s seen both sides of the coin (Malaysia and Indonesia). We were surprised at first but he shared that if Indonesians commit crimes in Indonesia, they would be hunted down and shot, since the authorities rather rid the country of society pests, rather then house them in cramped jails. How true was his statement? We could not verify it really but we definitely felt quite safe walking around here. No snatch thefts were seen nor were we warned about it’s dangers here.

He surprised us with another statement .. He prefers food in Malaysia! Especially Thai Tom Yam (cooked the Malaysian way) since he discovered it in KL. Sure..  Thai food is not Malaysian, but you get his meaning. We had a laugh. We got on well with him. He mentioned that he could easily get us an Indonesian foreign persons identity card if we wanted to visit often! He cites Indonesia as having less bureaucracy compared to Malaysia. Maybe it’s to do with a little money as well.

Java Mei

Anyway, as we have mentioned earlier, Heikel was a shrewd business man but a fair man nonetheless. He charged us Rp400K for the entire 6 hours of taxi service which covered Borobudur, Chandi Mendut, Prambanan as well as Solo.

At Chandi Mendut, Ciki got to sample some delicious roadside hawker Rujak (Indonesian Salad). Tastes so good, even the bugs want some!


Chandi Prambanan.

After Chandi Mendut, we went on to Chandi Prambanan.

A bit about Java History.

The first records found in West Java  mention the kingdom of Tarumanegara dating back to the 5th century AD.  Hindu temples in Central Java dating back to the 6th century were built in the Dieng plateau near Wonosobo. The early  Mataram kingdom under the Syailendra dynasty constructed the imposing Buddhist Borobudur temple in the 8th century,  which was followed in the 9th century by the construction of the elegant Hindu Prambanan nearby, built  by the Sanjaya dynasty.

For some strange reason,  scientists postulate that because of a violent eruption of Mt. Merapi the center of power suddenly shifted to East Java, where out of this, emerged the kingdoms of Kediri, Singosari and later, the powerful Majapahit Kingdom. The most famous of these was the Majapahit Kingdom which in the 14th century held sway over much of the Indonesian archipelago and beyond, until it fell in 1478 in a holy war against the Muslim Demak kingdom.


Interesting detail on Chandi Prambanan.

With the arrival of Islam in Indonesia, the power of Majapahit waned, and most of its aristocracy and Hindu followers fled to the neighbouring island of Bali. Until today, Bali’s inhabitants still adhere strongly to the Hindu religion. Meanwhile, most of Java’s northern coast converted to Islam.


After Chandi Prambanan, it was time for lunch and we headed out for a popular Fried Chicken as suggested by Heikel.

It was nice tasting but tiny! We noticed most of the chicken we’ve had are tiny free-range/ village chicken. Good taste or not, it didn’t fill our tummies since we are spoilt by portions back home. We had invited our driver to join us and he must not have eaten a good meal recently as he gobbled it up fast. Even he agrees Malaysian chickens are meatier. Yes, he misses food in Malaysia.

At around 2.30 pm we head out to Solo.


Tower and portal of Kraton Surakarta

Surakarta is also known by the name “Solo”. It is approximately 65 km (40 miles) northeast of Yogyakarta, and 100 km (60 miles) southeast of Semarang The eastern part of the town is bordered by Bengawan Solo River, the longest river on Java. The river is the inspiration for the song Bengawan Solo, a 1940’s composition by Gesang Martohartono which became famous throughout much of Asia.

The Kraton Surakata in central Solo is a city in itself. The palace is surrounded by a wall with inside a complete kampung (village) like area with a kampung feeling. Although the modern city is just 5 minutes away, it’s very quiet ni the Kraton. The best way to see the Kraton area is on foot.

The photo you see above is the portal and doorway that leads into the palace but only parts can be visited. The main sight to be visited is the Sasono Sewoko Museum where you can see silver and bronze work, Hindu-Javanese figures, weapons, antiques, carriages and other royal heirlooms.


More on Java History.

Beginning in the sixteenth century, successive waves of Europeans, the Portuguese, the Spanish, the Dutch and finally, the British, sought to dominate the spice trade at its sources in India and the ‘Spice Islands’ (Maluku) of Indonesia. This meant finding a way to Asia to cut out Muslim merchants who, with their Venetian outlet in the Mediterranean, monopolised spice imports to Europe. Astronomically priced at the time, spices were highly coveted not only to preserve and make poorly preserved meat palatable, but also as medicines and magic potions.

The first Dutch vessel anchored in Java in late 1600’s and in 1619 took over the town of Jayakarta and renamed it Batavia, to become the center of Dutch government in the East Indies.  Dutch colonialism slowly overpowered Java’s kingdoms, and soon the island came under Dutch rule. Yogyakarta and Surakarta (Solo) however, remained as sultanates. Although, at the declaration of Indonesia’s Independence in 1945 these pledged integration into the Republic of Indonesia, their special status allows their unique culture and traditions to continue until today.

Meanwhile, Islam  spread over most of the Indonesian archipelago, and today some 80% of Java’s population embraces Islam, which, welded into centuries-old cultures and tradition have made Indonesians a more tolerant and moderate society.


And so it rained for forty days and forty nights

Unfortunately though, with the heavy traffic, by the time we arrived in Solo it was well past noon. We managed to circle the town a little bit and noticed a few areas of interest where we could wander around on foot. We were so unlucky that the Kraton Surakarta was closed (it closes at 3pm). And then our luck worsened when it started to rain again.. much heavier. It turned out to be a major downpour which basically spoilt our entire Solo visit. After hanging out at a Shopping Mall for a while, we had to head back to Yogyakarta.


Without Ciki in tow, he explores the deeper reaches of Yogya

We arrived back at the hotel in late evening. Ciki zonked out from the long day decided to stay in while Cumi headed out for supper. As usual, without Ciki in tow, he explores the deeper reaches of Yogya faster  and soon finds some good grub. He discovers a bustling chinese fried noodle stall and decides to order a plate. Verdict… just edible. No matter, how busy it was, how strong the flame was and the availability of pork lard, they couldn’t achieve a good plate of fried noodles.


The serving sizes were large – you could feed 2 persons – but as you can see from the pictures, it was filled more with rice and noodles than meat. The pork meat here was stale and hard therefore didn’t add value to the dish unfortunately.


Cumi sat with some local Chinese Indonesians. They seem to love the food at this stall. He suggested they visit Malaysia sometime and taste the food. They just might reach gastronomic-orgasm tasting our street food.. really. Of course, he didn’t mention that.

Mr. Edi on left picture was a businessman from Semarang, trading hardwood. He says he’s visited Singapore and Malaysia before and all he remembers is that he got slaughtered eating airport food. Well, we don’t blame him. Airport food is always expensive and usually never that good including at Soekarno-Hatta:P

This concludes faces of Yogya. Up soon, more Java Lava adventure with Cumi & Ciki!

The Posts Thus Far – The Java Series..

Day 1: what you need to know to survive the manic roads system in Java!

Day 2: Magic Java come to take you away.. getting to know Bandung

Day 3: Beach Bums on Pangandaran beach

Day 4: Jogging around Jogjakarta

Day 5: Borobudur & the 3 levels on Enlightenment


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