Archive | February, 2011

Good Morning Vietnam- A photo blog

26 Feb

I’m quite tired and can’t bring myself to write lots of words so I give you my photo blog


Reunification Palace in Ho Chi Minh- Very important in Vietnamese history


War Remnants Museum, Ho Chi Minh City- Never have I been to a place where I wanted to cry so much in my life. Really shocks me what humans can do to one another


Entrance to Viet Cong tunnels. Trust me I had a go at getting in there and it’s a tight squeeze


Covered bridge in Hoi An- A UNESCO town where Japanese, Chinese and Vietnamese culture collide


Hoi An- oh the colours and architecture make my heart sing with happiness


My Son- 1000 years old and surviving many wars. A true marvel which I didn’t know existed until 3 days ago

That’s it for now! I’ll say this is part 1 of 2. Heading to the North tomorrow over the 17th parallel to see what I can find

Peace Out


The Mountain of Fire and Powerful Dynasties

15 Feb

With four weeks of university over it was time to head down to Yogyakarta to catch up with a friend and have a little bit of time away from Salatiga.

The journey to Yogyakarta was interesting to say the least. Besides the fact I was travelling “sendiri” (alone) a concept which is considered unusual in Indonesia, after an extremely late night and forgetting to set an alarm I finally arrived at the bus stop at 12pm. In my tired state I forgot to read the front of the bus and didn’t notice until I was on the bus that it said BIASA. For those not accustomed to the Solo-Semarang bus line, there are two kinds of buses Parawisata (tourist) or Biasa (normal). Parawisata are quite nice with air conditioning and comfortable seats, Biasa is a case of let’s fit as many people in as possible on a hot, smelly bus and have people get on and try and sell things every five minutes. This was followed by the typical argument with a becak driver and attempting to argue that I knew how much the becak should cost so stop trying to overcharge me. This argument failed as usual and caused me to miss the train leaving me to wait for an hour in the humidity at Solo station which was neither an enjoyable or enriching experience so needless to say I was happy to arrive in Yogya.

My friend Amalia met me at the station and we drove to her house on her scooter (stopping on the way for some ayam bakar) It was a long drive until we reached her house in the rice fields and for the first time in four weeks it was actually quiet at night without the sound of roaring motorbikes or Pedagang Kaki Lima (street vendors). The next morning I was greeted by an unobstructed view of Gunung Merapi, the volcano which shot to infamy two months ago following the devastating eruptionsIMG_0947 which claimed over three hundred lives. The shape of the peak has changed since I last saw it and the mountain has been scarred by the avalanches of hot ash and debris.

We decided to do something a bit different and ventured up Merapi on the motorbike to a museum celebrating Javanese culture and the sultanates of Yogyakarta and Solo. The warning signs that we were entering the danger zone where pyroclastic (hot gas) flows can occur and clearly marked evacuation routes served as a reminder of the recent tragedy as merely kilometres away from Merapi we rode through villages where people had lost their lives. On the way there we also saw a lahar (cold debris avalanche) caused by heavy rains sending debris from the eruption down the river only a few kilometres from Amalia’s house.

The museum was interesting with paintings and artefacts of the lives of the royal family including to my amusement a painting of the royals with some other familiar royalty, Prince Charles (IMG_0963donning a safari suit) and the lovely Princess Diana. We also enjoyed some secret recipe jamu (traditional medicine) which was supposed to help us retain our young looks. Afterwards we set off down the mountain as the clouds rolled in, hiding Merapi from sight.

Next stop was Tamansari, the playground of the King where he would sit in his tower and watch the women bathe in a pool. Should he like one of these women, he would request that they join him in his private pool. The grounds were amazing with intricate stone work dating hundreds of years. Following this we went for aIMG_0982 walk in a kampung and saw batik and wayang kulit artists. The graffiti throughout the kampung was, like it is in most of Indonesia, amazing with batik designs and characters from Javanese epics covering the walls. Then we went to a mosque Amalia wanted to show me due to it’s unique nature. Upon arrival the mosque was actually an old fort with a great deal of it underground formed around a central pond.

After a stroll through the mall to cool off it was time to bid my farewells as I made my way to the train station. Much to my dismay I had missed my train by two minutes leaving me with a ninety minute wait for the next train resulting in another four hours of travelling to go just 100 km.

IMG_0994 People say Solo is the Spirit of Java however I would be inclined to disagree. Yogya has perfected an intricate fusion of modern and traditional culture offering something for everyone. From street art to ancient techniques such as batik and the palaces of dynasties spanning centuries, Yogya is a city which never fails to impress and is somewhere I will never hesitate to return to.

Get some culture into you

3 Feb

Malam Budaya or Culture Night is the traditional end to the four week PIBBI program. It is something to be feared as a girl or anticipated if participating in just the for week program. It’s also the time where it is best to keep your mouth shut and not tell the Course Director that you know a traditional Javanese welcoming dance.

The night started early for a number of the other girls and I with hair and make up appointments to attend followed by being dressed in some incredibly uncomfortable traditional Indonesian clothes. We had people dressed in outfits from Papua to Aceh and everywhere in between which was a nice change from the usual heavy turnout of Javanese outfits. For me it meant going through the process of being dressed for gambyong which features several metres of fabric, a corset, a hair piece adorned with gold accessories, sampur (scarves), a lot more bling and then topped off with a two metre chain of jasmine flowers which left me smelling lovely but unable to sit down. Faced with the idea of not being able to walk properly or sit down let alone go to the toilet or breathe, it was time for culture night. IMG_0770

It’s always fun to see your newfound friends descend on the LTC (Language Training Centre) and laughing at how ridiculous you all look. The host families find it entertaining and everyone gets a chance to mingle before the ceremony begins. This was the part I feared the most as I would be the first performance of the night’s proceedings and as the gamelan started playing and I waited for the D’lang of the drum, the sign to make my entrance, Malam Budaya began.

Gambyong, a traditional Javanese court dance is a dance I have a great deal of respect for but not one I particularly enjoy performing. It requires complete control over your movements in order to dance slowly and gracefully. Also if you get Gambyong wrong it looks awful. I have never been an expert at controlling my movements with anyIMG_0786 degree of grace so the pressure was well and truly on. I was extremely focused during the dance so can’t really comment on it however many of the Indonesian audience members loved it so it must have been ok.

After my dance we presented our cultural class activities including pencak silat, batik (which I had to present), cooking and gamelan. This meant everybody had to play some role in the night before we got our certificates and transcripts. Group photos were followed by dinner and a chance to try a different aspect of Indonesian culture- karaoke where I attempted to entertain  the crowd with a Rod Stewart classic. There was more photos and a chance to have a chat to different people and then we were entertained by a Papuan dance which bore strong resemblance to a traditional aboriginal dance. We were then invited to join in this dance with mixed results. As the night drew to a close and it was becoming later it was time to get out of our IMG_0814uncomfortable traditional clothes and head off to the local bar for a few drinks and a debrief of the night.

Malam Budaya was a really fun night despite its meaning being slightly affected by the fact we still have another three weeks of the program left to go. We did have a fair few people leave after four weeks who will all be missed and Malam Budaya marked the end of what has been an enjoyable four weeks.

We come from a land down under

3 Feb

Once again I found myself in Salatiga when Australia Day came around. General consensus was to turn last year’s party into a tradition and once again celebrate our National Day in style. This in itself raised a number of questions as to why we, as Australians seem to place so much more emphasis on the 26th of January when we find ourselves in packs in places far from home.

P1240140 There is no doubt the events behind Australia Day are something that not all Australians would like to celebrate or remember at that, because of this meaning it was agreed that Australia Day is little more than a chance for a day off and a bbq. For us in Salatiga, Australia Day presents an opportunity to play host to our Indonesian friends, families and teachers as a show of gratitude for the hospitality they have shown us. 

Little needs to be said about the party itself as it was typically what you expect from a party hosted by university students with too much beer and an assortment of unhealthy snacks. Music left a bit to be desired with our carefully planned, Australian themed iPod playlists thwarted by the lack of iPod connectivity for the sound system. Instead we were educated in some classic Prog Rock thanks to one of the host families. Another interesting event was where a number of us experienced a rice paddy up close and personalP1240139 when the railing of the balcony we were standing on gave way, sending us flying into the muddy field.

Thanks have to go out to everyone who helped organise the party and everyone who attended. While it may be a tradition which is hated by some for it’s dubious origins or viewed as bogan, all meanings of the day aside. When you have thirty odd Australians and a number of people from other nations coming together in a small town in Central Java, you can’t help but be a little bit proud to be and Australian.

Organic Central Java

3 Feb

As a disclaimer I am not a food critic nor do I normally use my blog as a vehicle for promotion however it is very rare that I find a place that is deserving of such praise.

When my friend suggested we travel 100km each way from Salatiga to Yogyakarta for dinner at a restaurant she likes I was keen for a bit of an adventure however when she mentioned it was a vegetarian restaurant I was somewhat wary being a lover of all things which are considered meat products. However after a day of batik shopping in Solo and sampling Kopi Luwak the most expensive coffee in the world taken from the faeces of a Civet, I made the journey to Yogya and to the restaurant.

Milas or Mimpi Lama Sekali is not just a restaurant. It encompasses a community project, youth training centre and organic garden. In a country where food tends to be high in flavour and low in nutritional value offering fresh, organic produce is a feat in itself.

IMG_0757Arriving we took up position in a small bamboo hut surro unded by lush, tropical gardens and we decided to sample the menu of fresh juices while awaiting our other friend’s arrival from Jakarta. It made me wonder why in such an agriculturally focused nation, there is not more of a focus on fresh, unflavoured vegetables. For example when I ordered a mango juice, something I have been drinking a few times a week at cafes in Salatiga, I was informed that mangos aren’t currently in season and left me curious as to where all this mango juice was coming from.

The time came to order food and we started with what would be one of the best bruchettas I have ever eaten. It may have been the fact that I have only had sugar rich bread or have been craving cheese for three weeks but the idea of a baguette, fresh tomato and organic basil and cheese was a godsend. For the main I decided to try the guacamole taco and while it more resembled a curry puff than your stereotypical Mexican snack, it featured fresh tomato and avocado. The fact that it had avocado in it’s natural form as opposed to in juice mixed with chocolate restored my faith in Indonesian cuisine a little bit. Other items included pasta with pesto and brown rice forming just a glimpse of the extensive menu which is offered at Milas. All items are free of preservatives as the focus truly is on organic produce.

After eating we browsed the giftshop which offered a selection of handicrafts and organic products made by students at the youth program. We ended up spending more money here than on food investing in items such as fisherman’s pants and organic soaps. Very content with the experience that was Milas we all had a nap in the long taxi ride back to Salatiga. IMG_0758

Milas represents a concept which would be of great benefit to not just Indonesia but many Western nations. With obesity and poor nutrition plaguing a great deal of the world, the idea of providing good, healthy food at a reasonable price while at the same time putting back into the community is genius. I believe that Milas is taking a bold step to break into an untapped market in the Indonesian culinary world and hope they are able to turn this into a truly successful venture.

What do you think they mean by jeep race?

3 Feb

Was the question on our lips when our host dad asked us if we wanted to come to a race with him a few weekends ago. Unfortunately my other friend from the home stay couldn’t make it as she had other plans so I decided to give it a shot and see what a jeep race actually entailed.

We left Salatiga at 3pm to drop my friend in Semarang where conveniently the race also started. After some ayam goreng (fried chicken) and a long drive we arrived at a field with maybe 150 other jeeps. Upon finding the Salatiga Jeep Club among the crowd and meeting everyone we went over to the registration where I was to find out I was actually the navigator for this Off Road Touring race. The 14th Annual Diponegoro Jeep Club Event was serious business so I was hoping that there wasn’t actually any form of map reading or navigating actually expected of me… There was. After an hour at the field it was time to jump in the jeep (It’s now 8pm). Oh maybe a little race at night for a bit of fun. I was wrong. On being handed the map I saw that it was at least 80km and little did I know a majority of that would actually be off road. Having to navigate through the city was easy enough as I just had to read directions off the map however as soon as we entered the rubber plantation the fun began.IMG_0672

Because of the sheer amount of jeeps and the poor condition of the track the off road part took a very long time. We got bogged a number of times, being winched was very frequent and if I recall correctly we hit 4 trees. At midnight we were still deep in the forest with a long way to go. The track was actually pretty extreme compared to some of the off road tracks I have been on in Australia with us coming very close to ending up on our side a number of times. I knew we were in for a big obstacle when I was told to hold on (there aren’t any seatbelts in jeeps here) and very frequently this would mean a big drop into a creek bed. After a while we were able to hit the gas and tear along some dirt tracks (2am now) and occasionally would stop and wait for the other Salatiga jeeps to catch up. When we finally got back onto the sealed road (3am) I crawled into the back of the jeep and went to sleep. I woke up as we got back into the field and could in the distance hear the sound of the mosque having morning prayers (at 4am).IMG_0716

It was surprisingly comfortable sleeping in the jeep that night despite only getting three hours sleep and waking up at 7am just in time to head off to my host dad’s friends house for a mandi and some breakfast at a Makanan Padang restaurant. After this we headed back to the field for the Off Road event where jeeps tried to see how quickly they could get through a course. Luckily we didn’t compete in this one and watched a number of jeeps smash into trees and end up on their roof.IMG_0712

We headed home mid afternoon and stopped for some durian and young coconut juice on the side of the road on the way. It really was nothing like what I expected and was an experience unlike any other that I have had in Indonesia. To see that this kind of activity actually occurs in Indonesia was interesting and it was made so much more fun knowing the dangers of liability did not affect the race. Needless to say on arrival in Salatiga there wasn’t much else to do than lie on the couch, watch some TV and sleep after what was a very big 24 hours.