Jogja and the Angklung

A man performs on an angklung on Maliboro Street in Yogyakarta.

Ever heard of an angklung?

Me neither. It’s an Indonesian musical instrument, composed of hollow bamboo tubes cut and shaped to resonate at specific tones. By hitting or shaking them back and forth, a musician can perform a simple song and with many in tandem, a group of musicians can weave rich melodies. The angklung’s sound is decidedly tropical; it’s reminiscent of reminiscent of a marimba or xylophone, with a hint of wooden pipes. As an invention of Indonesia, the angklung is now classified by UNESCO as a “Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.”

A standalone angklung.

But here in Yogyakarta, the angklung and its players are under threat. The city’s government has recently banned angklung performances from the streets and at traffic intersections, where people previously busked for a living. The government asserts that this measure is needed to clean up the streets and remove ‘vagrants’. But the angklung players aren’t fading away peacefully. They’re organizing protests and arguing they’ve got a right to a living, and by banning their performances the government of Yogyakarta is violating their human rights. We’ve seen one protest that’s shut down Jl. Maliboro (a main street of Jogja) entirely, with angklung players proudly waving signs saying “We’re artists, not vagrants!”

Performers shut down Maliboro Street as they protest the ban on streetside angklung performances.
Street performance: protesters loaded a whole band into the back of a truck to play as they march down Maliboro.

And then there are the groups choosing to ignore the ban entirely, hosting huge anglkung orchestras on Maliboro’s sidewalk once night falls. The band below was out in force nearly every night we were in Jogja, playing for huge crowds as men danced to the music.

Men dance to angklung music on Maliboro.
A streetside angklung band, with percussion and a bamboo xylophone accompaniment.

I get that Jogja wants to clean up its streets and make itself look more modern, and that a huge number of angklung players clogging the sidewalks and traffic intersections would be a pain. But the angklung players are trying to make a living and they’re a great-sounding and a unique part of Indoensia’s heritage. Having buskers out in the open means that heritage reaches more people, some of which couldn’t afford the cost of an orchestral ticket, some of which might never hear an angklung otherwise. Stoytcho and I would definitely have never heard or heard of an angklung if these guys hadn’t been playing them on the streets. So isn’t there some kind of peaceful compromise wherein both the city and angklung buskers would be happy?

The angklung performance attracts both locals and foreigners alike. Isn’t there a way to strike balance between allowing too many people to busk on angklungs an outright ban on their street performances?

Now that you’ve heard about it, hear what an angklung sounds like! Here’s some video of the guys above:

The Influence Game – Last day Batik Sale

All over the world there are folks trying to make a quick buck by scamming others, and travelers are particularly vulnerable because they’re often unfamiliar with the traditions and norms of an area. It’s a risk you take as a visitor to another place, and while a scam can ruin your trip, it’s also a chance to learn how people work. Below is one of the scams we encountered on our travels, broken down so that you can see the techniques the scammer uses to influence you; read on to learn the signs so you won’t fall for it:

Name: Last Day Batik Sale

Location: Yogyakarta, Indonesia

Why it’s a scam: A seemingly friendly face will lie or provide unverifiable information so that you’ll be convinced to visit a pricey batik painting shop with them. A Hustler will then also lie/provide unverifiable information to you to convince you to buy overpriced batik that’s actually mass-produced.

A batik painting from a ‘last day batik gallery’, demonstrating how the batik process works.


How it works:

The two actors in the scheme are an agent that approaches you with information, and the hustler who tries to close the sale. You’re the mark (victim), usually someone who has just come into town and don’t know your way around yet. The mark could be anyone from a lone traveler to a couple to a whole tour group. The ploy starts with you walking on the street; the Agent (usually an older man) will start a conversation with you in English. He’ll ask where you’re from, and miraculously he’ll have visited the place or has a relative/friend who lives or went to college nearby. It may be a lie, but it’s unverifiable and so he’s doing two things here: 1) dispelling suspicion of why he speaks such good English and 2) more importantly, building rapport and trust with you. After all, you two have something in common, and what a crazy coincidence you’d happen to meet him here. It’s human nature to like him a bit more after this.

Maliboro street in Yogyakarta–you’ll find tons of Agents hanging around here.

The Agent will then ask where you’re going today, and when you respond he’ll try to deter you from going there with one of the following: the weather is bad for it, there is a protest going on in the area, or that attraction is closed. Since he’s a local, you’ll likely trust him to know more than you do. Furthermore, you feel like he’s done you a favor by giving you this insider information. In reality, he’s probably lying to trigger feelings of reciprocity, meaning you’re more likely to say yes to his next request.

This is where the Agent then makes his big move, part hook to catch your interest and part request: he’ll tell you he knows of a traditional batik art gallery nearby that he could take you to visit. It’ll sound like a great substitute for what you planned to do that day, so you’ll probably agree to go.

But if you resist and show hesitation, the Agent has one more powerful technique to convince you to come with him: scarcity. You might tell him you’re not sure or you’ll go tomorrow, whereupon he’ll reply “Ah, but this is the last day for the gallery. Tomorrow they close and go to (insert another city or island in Indonesia). As the mark you’re trapped—if you don’t go now, you’ll never get a chance to see this batik sale! You could find something so amazing and unique that it stays with you for the rest of your life! Aughhh! At this point, most first timers of this scheme follow the Agent willingly.

One of the “last day” batik galleries we were directed to by Agents. If it’s a temporary exhibit, why do you have a permanent sign?

The Agent will lead you into a maze of alleys and arrive at a small store filled with hundreds of batik paintings on the walls and stacked along the floor. The Agent introduces you to the Hustler, who he says is a ‘teacher’ at the batik art school. Here, the Agent is making the Hustler a figure of authority, someone you’ll trust to have valid information.

Once introductions are done, the Agent quickly disappear and the Hustler works hard to reinforce his authority and do you favors to close the sale. The Hustler will start out by displaying examples of the batik dye process, which reinforces his role as an authority and also again primes you to feel reciprocity; he’s giving you this information, so shouldn’t you reciprocate a kind act to him by buying something?

The longer you hang around, the harder the Hustler piles on the pressure. He may increase the likelihood of your reciprocity by offering you a free bottle of water for that hot Indonesian weather. He’ll tell you that all of the prices in the gallery are very affordable, and that a percentage of the sales goes back to the school so they can give classes to students for cheap/free. This is meant to trigger the warm feelings you get when you donate to charity. You’ll do good by buying!

The Hustler will encourage you to pick a piece you like, and this is when the final tricks happen. Once you point out one you like, the Hustler will compliment you on your good taste and give you a price. He’ll quickly follow up with, “We don’t haggle here on price. I hope you understand.” This is a SUPER devious, SUPER common salesman tactic because it pre-empts nearly any attempt to haggle. Who does something that just isn’t done, especially if you’re in a new country where you’re not sure of the social norms. If you actually are in the market for a batik piece and someone does this, give them a friendly smile and say you’re only able to pay X amount so it’s out of your price range, and start to walk away. They’ll haggle.

At this point, the Agent and the Hustler have used a huge number of influence tactics on you, the Mark: rapport, reciprocity, an interesting hook, scarcity, authority, warm feelings, salesman tactics. At this point, you usually make a purchase, the hustler excitedly thanks you, and you leave the shop. It’s possible you paid for a nice, unique batik art piece. But it’s more likely that the Hustler has made over 100% profit on the batik piece that is mass-produced (we ‘visited’ a few of these shops and saw several duplicates), which he splits with the Agent for bringing in business.

To save yourself from this scam:

  • Always be wary of unsolicited favors, be it information like above or physical gifts like those candies left by kids on your table or the bracelet slapped on your wrist by a wandering old lady. Truly free things given to you while travelling will come with a big smile and a “free/gratis/regalo”, after which the person will wave you off. Otherwise, unsolicited favors should raise a red flag that the person will ask for something afterward.
  • Deviate from the script and ask for more information that might catch the Agent/Hustler off guard and reveal them as frauds. Ask the Agent for more specifics on his relative/friends or drop a fake detail and see if he agrees it’s true. Ask the Hustler which paintings in the gallery he’s made as a teacher, and note if the ones he point to look like they’re in a similar style or form. If he hesitates or they’re totally different, he’s probably lying. These are just examples, and you should think up your own questions—if the Agents and Hustlers encounter a deviation too often they’ll modify their own scripts.
  • If you get a bad feeling, just say no calmly and walk away. This is what we did once we realized we were in a scam. It doesn’t matter that you’re standing in a shop and someone really wants you to buy something. It doesn’t matter that he might have even given you a free bottle of water. These people tricked you to get you here. The key is not to get angry, because that may get you into trouble (the Hustler might have friends nearby). Smile and say thank you, but you’re not interested in purchasing anything. Stay calm and repeat this as needed even if the Hustler gets angry/offended/gives you sad puppy dog eyes. Then leave.


After spending a few days in Borobudur and Prambanan, we’ve moved to the Maliboro district in the heart of Yogyakarta (Jogja) proper. We’re here to eat food, rest a bit, and people watch. And on a street lined with multi-story malls housing American fast food brands, traditional batik clothing outlets, and pop-up vendors cramming the streets with cheap souvenirs and delicious food, we couldn’t ask for better. Maliboro is an artery for the city’s commuters that thickens to a crawl during rush hour. It’s also where the newly affluent middle class comes to shop, where a panoply of shopkeepers flood onto the streets to sell their wares, where everyone mixes and mingles. There’s always something to see.

Stoytcho and I roam the streets, ducking between people and capturing what we can on a camera with reflexes too slow for life here. On one occasion, I’m staring out into the flow of traffic and watch in awe as a man with a dozen sacks of rice and a crate of fruit on his scooter deftly weaves between cars. I shout to Stoytcho, “WHOA, did you see that?” “No,” Stoytcho replies, “I was distracted by a chainsmoking ten-year-old shopping for a lighter.”

Two girls play near a monument to Indonesia’s revolutionary heroes, along Jl. Maliboro.
Men work in a ditch along Maliboro, further complicating the daily rush hour.
Angklung performers shut down Maliboro as they protest a ban on musical street performances. Their signs read variations of: “We are artists, not vagrants.”
A performer plays the angklung on Maliboro, in defiance of the street performance ban.
Women shop for bridal accesories at pop-up shops in one of Maliboro’s malls.
Our backpacks rest at the Packer Lodge in Yogyakarta.
Stoytcho rests in the lobby of the Packer Lodge in Yogyakarta.
Ojeks and cars crawl along Jl. Maliboro in rush hour.
Two women try to cross the street.
People gather and walk the street in the evening at Maliboro.
The late afternoon sun through a sculpture.
The narrow walking corridor between shop stalls on Maliboro’s west side. Stoytcho towers over everyone here.
A neon sign for a batik clothing store.
A man attempts to cross the street with his food cart.
A scrambled egg fries in a hot wok before rice and seasoning are added to make nasi goreng.
Light and color in the night: the view from a food stall off Maliboro.

Prambanan Ramayana Ballet

Rama and Ravana clash in Prambanan’s Ramayana Ballet.

If you visit Borobudur and Prambanan, it’s likely that you’ll hear about the Prambanan Ramayana Ballet. You’ll see signs for it. People will tell you to take a night and go see it. It’s a big deal around here.

The billboard for the Ramayana Ballet.

I’ve never been an attentive fan of ballet or theater because in college I lacked money, and in graduate school I lacked time. But with a free evening after visiting Prambanan and tickets that only cost $35 per person for up-close, front row seating…good gravy, why not? The hotel concierge tells us that they’re even predicting good weather for that evening, meaning they’ll use the outdoor theater. We have no idea why that matters, but we’ll find out later it involves fire.

A gaggle of students settle into their seats in the outdoor theater.

Though our hotel is just down the street from the ballet venue (on the back side of the Prambanan Temple park), the hotel staff insists on driving us. We go along and pretend we’re wealthy for the night, though we don’t have to pretend here in Indonesia—we are. But we did just finish a $2 dinner of fried rice and veggies.

After picking up our tickets, getting our complimentary tea/coffee/drink, and settling into our seats, we’re ready to enjoy the show. We watch other people filing in, including an entire gaggle of Indonesian schoolchildren in uniforms, who cluster into giggling groups as the teachers try to seat them in rows. Then the lights dim and everyone, student and nonstudent alike, falls to a hush at the undulating ring of gamelans.

Prambanan illuminated in the background of the open theater.

I’m going to spoil the outcome now and tell you that the Prambanan Ramayana Ballet is AMAZING. I’ve never seen anything like it in my life, though it’s much less a ballet and more a performance of traditional Javanese dance called Wayang Wong. There’s something hypnotic in the way the dancers move–their hands become water and feet become air as they flow across the stage. And while it might not have the absurd production value of a Broadway show or a Wagner Ring Cycle, it has everything else: an epic love story, fight scenes, drama, comedy, brilliant colors, all with bilingual Bahasa/English subtitles. Also, did I mention fire?

Below are more photographs from the ballet, with my irreverent telling of the story. But really, you should go see it live. With tickets as cheap as $7, you have no reason not to:

Dancers throw flower petals at the start of the performance.

The ballet starts with a contest for Princess Sita’s hand in marriage, which rests on a suitor’s ability to break a magic bow. Ravana, the story’s antagonist, fails and storms off*. Rama, the story’s hero, succeeds and marries Sita. She joins Rama and his brother Laksamana, wandering the world in an exile that predates this story.

Ravana fails to break the magic bow and win Sita’s hand in marriage.
Rama kneels before the magic bow as Sita and her father watch. Unfortunately, Sita was not allowed to compete for her own hand in marriage.

But Ravana still wants Sita, and hatches a plan to distract Rama and steal her away. He sends his minion Maricha in the form of a golden deer to enchant Sita, who begs Rama to catch it for her. Why? Who knows. Old stories.

“Sita, what are you going to do with a magic golden deer? Do you even know what it eats?”

Rama leaves Sita with Laksamana, but when Rama fails to return promptly both begin to worry. Laksamana seals Sita in a magic circle while he goes off to look for Rama, but Ravana disguises himself as an old beggar and tricks Sita into leaving the circle. Yep, because SMARTS.

Sita is lured out of the magic circle by Ravana disguised as a beggar.

Rama catches the golden deer only to find it’s Ravana’s minion. After defeating it in battle, he and Laksamana rush back to find Sita gone. They find out from Jatayu, the vulture king, that Ravana has taken her.

Jatayu then dies, because it was a bad idea to get into a knife fight with Ravana as a bird with no opposable thumbs.

What follows is a series of adventures in trying to get Sita back, which can basically be summed up as they get the ape-king Hanuman on their side who manages to sneak into Ravana’s kingdom and bring Sita a message that Rama is looking for her.

Hanuman brings Sita a message from Rama.

Then Hanuman gets beats up Ravana’s other minions, who are apparently all really drunk at midday because palace guarding, who does that? Ravana defeats Hanuman and captures him, subjecting him to a ‘trial’ and execution by burning.

Oh…that’s live real fire you’re bringing onto the stage. You sure you guys know what you’re doing?

This is where the performance take a creative twist, because they bring live fire out onto the stage. They light small bonfires, and Hanuman stands between them, unharmed in the story because he’s pure of heart.

Huh, it looks like that fire you guys had really got out of hand.

Hanuman then proceeds grab a torch from the flames and set the entire stage on fire, then turns into giant ape a la Dragonball Z. In the story he rampages around destroying Ravana’s palace, but in the ballet he mostly rises like a giant monster over the flaming wreckage of the stage. Yeah, these people are serious about their ballet.

And now there’s a giant Hanuman rising from the skyline as the entire stage is engulfed in flames…

Hanuman rejoins Rama and Laksamana, who attack Ravana’s forces and wage war. Rama confronts Ravana and they battle. Rama eventually shoots Ravana with an arrow and kills him, but not to be outdone Hanuman then throws a mountain on him.

“Two vs one? That’s seriously not fair, guys.”

Sita and Rama are then reunited, but Rama is suspicious of Sita’s fidelity after all of her years in captivity. So Sita burns herself in flames but remains untouched, because she’s pure of heart—turns out that’s all you need to survive fire, besides like, actual safety and survival gear.

Instead of professing her fidelity, Sita should be saying “Well you wouldn’t have this concern over my fidelity if it hadn’t taken SO LONG for your dumb ass to come rescue me.”
Not dying in magic flames–a continuing theme in this story.

Rama extinguishes the flames and they go off, happily ever after.

Happy ending? Rama is supposed to back to his kingdom and be king now, so I guess that’s good enough.

It’s a pretty straightforward fairy tale with elements of good and evil, what humans should and shouldn’t do, and archetypal roles of princesses being rescued by princes and their sidekicks. But really, who cares? They lit the stage on fire.


*This differs from the original Ramayana quite a bit, where Ravana steals Sita as part of a plot to destroy Rama for his hand in killing/destroying other demons. I might be misremembering it.

Good food and Snakefruit

Just outside our hotel, there’s a family restaurant (Warung Soto Pak Ndimo) that consists of a food stall and a single open-air table hiding beneath their house’s awning. The food is cheap, delicious, and fresh, and the family is oh-so-sweet and accommodating of our utter dependency on pointing, smiling, and Google Translate to communicate (though the wife speaks a few words of English).

An amazing egg and veggie stir fry that they make, topped with freshly deep-fried shallots. Mmmm….

And tonight after dinner they were amazingly kind and gave us a GIFT! It’s got scaly skin, but it’s not any kind of animal.

What…is this?

We’ve seen these things in the marketplace here but have no idea what they are. The wife tells us that they’re called “salak” and shows us how to peel away the scaly skin to reveal a cream-colored fruit below. We take a nibble and it’s like a tropical apple: a bit tangy, but mostly sweet and crisp. It’s not as juicy as an apple, but that just means we don’t make a sticky mess as we bite through the tiny fruits. At the end of eating, all that’s left is a large stone from the middle.

Half a salak fruit. You can peel the skin off and eat the sweet, crunchy fruit inside.


The pits left after eating the salak fruit.


Some searches on “salak” reveal that it’s a ubiquitous, super popular Indonesian fruit that’s hard to get pretty much anywhere else. While I thought it might be related to lychee and rhambutan (given the stone in the middle), it’s actually the fruit of a native Indonesian palm. While I don’t think you can get them fresh in the U.S., I think the dried, crunchy chip version has made it to the States, so if you want a taste of the fruit’s flavor see if your local Asian market has some.

And if they don’t, you can always order online. Or book a trip to Indonesia. You know you want to.

Prambanan: Top of the ruins

A view of Prambanan from the top of Bubrah Temple’s reconstruction scaffold.

Like ruins around the world, the temples at Prambanan stand today because they have been reassembled following centuries of neglect and decay. The reconstruction process is still ongoing; visit the ruins, including the main Prambanan Temple, and you’ll be greeted by piles of bricks scattered around the temple complexes. You’ll also find teams working together to put these ancient buildings back together, piece by piece.

A collapsed building in the shadow of Sewu Temple awaits reconstruction.

Most visitors don’t stray far from the main Prambanan Temple, but we made a circuit around the temple grounds to visit Sewu Temple and Bubrah Temple, both of which were in earlier stages of reconstruction. Sewu was empty, with no one working on it and no one visiting. We had the ruin entirely to ourselves. Buhbrah was likewise devoid of visitors, probably because it was covered in a dense wood scaffold for reconstruction.

Bubrah Temple, circa April 2017.


Photographs of the reconstruction work at Bubrah Temple. They’re literally reassembling it from the foundation up.

We thought Buhbrah was devoid of workers as well until a guy surprised us while we were looking at reconstruction photos and schematics posted next to the ruins. His English was limited, but from what we could gather he 1) worked on reconstruction here at Buhbrah and 2) was really, really excited we had stopped by to visit. He pointed up to the scaffolding and grinned at us. “Want to go up?”

The front of Bubrah Temple, dense with scaffolding.


The view from the top floor of the scaffolding.

What followed was a definitely-not-on-the-regular-docket tour of Buhbrah ruins. The guy led us up through the wooden scaffolding around the temple, ascending makeshift inclines and scaling handmade ladders. There were on guardrails on the outside edge. There were no safety ropes. The only defense from disaster was to keep our balance.

Some of the temple’s stupas, encased in scaffolding for reconstruction.


The top floor of the scaffolding, where the workers are reassembling the temple’s ceiling and main stupa.

We finished our climb at the scaffolding’s top floor, five stories up, where our guide delighted in showing us the reconstruction materials and methods and cheerfully posed us for photos. He pointed down a shaft with a pulley and bucket that extends down to the ground; this was how they brought materials up.

Looking down the shaft used to bring tools and materials up.

He then led us to one side of the temple’s central stupa and gave us a fascinatingly tactile tour of temple reconstruction, passing us bricks and tools. The bricks are surprisingly light and formless, and as I squinted at one I realize that’s because it’s just aerated concrete. So this is how they deal with missing pieces in the temple reconstruction: just replicate replacements on site with skilled craftsmen and low-cost material. It won’t last forever, but it gets the job done.

Our host around the ruins posed me for this photo, pretending to work on the ruins, butall the scattered chips are from his work. Note the difference between the lightweight concrete bricks and darker original stone.

But in the humid tropics of Indonesia, nothing lasts forever. The original stones from the temple all sport heavy weathering in whites and grays. Many of the ornate carvings wear a veil of moss that in time will efface their details. Even the new wood scaffolding around the ruin is already showing signs of decay: a mushroom peeks from between the cracks, fed by the tropical warmth and rain. The manicured lawns around the temples may not be jungle, but nature still sends forth tendrils to reclaim the works of man.

A mushroom pokes out from between slats in Bubrah Temple’s scaffolding.
Moss grows on an ornately carved temple stone. Its growth will slowly eat away at the stone’s detailed shapes.

Borobudur Jumping Spiders

I haven’t captivated/delighted/enchanted/thrilled/terrified you with jumping spider photos recently! We haven’t seen many since New Zealand, but Borobudur turned out to have several. They were going about their business, but I managed to enlist a few for photoshoots.


This little spider on one of the bas-reliefs stopped for only a moment before hopping away.



Likewise, this jumping spider on an educational sign showed little interest in me or the camera.



This little spider stuck around for a while and loved the camera.


Here s/he is again…


And off, saying goodbye. Judging from the abdomen shape, I’d guess this was a female.


Again, I got little interest here. “Scram! I’m eating lunch.” I managed to get only one good shot before s/he backed away into a corner.


And remember, spiders are friends, not foot-stomping material. They’ll thank you by eating all of those flies and mosquitos that *bug* you so much. (HAHAHA…I regret nothing.)

Borobudur through one more lens

A Buddha statue overlooks crowds of visitors to Borobudur, the world’s largest Buddhist temple.

There’s not much I can say about Borobudur that hasn’t already been said or written, so I’ll keep it short: Borobudur is the largest Buddhist temple in the world. Constructed in the 9th century, the temple’s nine stories represent the three realms of Buddhist cosmology (world of desires, world of forms, and formless world) and tell the tales off Buddhism through more than a thousand reliefs carved into its stones. In walking its corridors, the temple becomes storyteller to all pilgrims and visitors, narrating the teachings of Buddha and his enlightenment.

The carved bas-reliefs in Borobudur’s corridors illustrate Buddhist stories and principles. A walk through all of the reliefs is a formidable 3 km (1.86 mi).


One of the thousand bas-reliefs on Borobudur’s walls.

There’s not much I can show you through our photographs that hasn’t already been seen. Borobudur is one of those picture-perfect places, with each snapshot of the place becoming art in itself and tons of visitors have that awe-inspiring, Instagram-exploding photos of Borobudur at sunrise. We don’t have sunrise photos. But how about this: ever seen an ancient Buddha get a bath?

P.S.: If you visit, here’s a money-saving tip! You can buy a ticket for both Borobudur and Prambanan at the ticketing office that saves you several dollars. The only catch is you’ll have to visit Prambanan the next day, but it’s only a taxi/bus ride away.

Groups of schoolchildren climb to Borobudur Temple in the morning, as a man walks around on the dome of its main stupa.


A rented bike left by a tree. People sometimes rent bikes in Borobudur to get around the compound.


A bas-relief, depicting a man seeking wisdom (possibly from Buddha).


A troupe of four musicians in a bas-relief.


Fitting it together: markings in the stones likely helped builders figure out how to put them together. I don’t know whether these markings came from the initial construction or the reconstruction when the temple was rediscovered.


An archer in the bas-reliefs takes aim as onlookers watch in curiosity and fear.


Dew-spun spider webs on the stones at Borobudur.


A headless Buddha statue sits in its foyer. Several buddha statues are missing heads and limbs because of both legal and illegal looting of the temple prior to restoration. Buddha heads in museums around the world originally came from Borobudur.


The steep ascent up to the highest level of Borobudur.


Three visitors rest and admire the scenery on the highest, stupa-studded level of Borobudur.


A partially-disassembled stupa reveals the Buddha statue within, posing his hands to represent ‘dharmachakra’ (spinning the wheel of dharma or karmic law).


A buddha stupa gets a bath with a pressure washer as part of temple maintenance.


The enigmatic smile of a hidden Buddha statue.


A Buddhist monk descends the steep stairs to the lower levels, where workers are assessing the stability of Borobudur’s foundation.


After visiting the temple, Stoytcho and I climb to the top of the hill in the temple grounds to get a better view.


Perfect arrangement: the needles of a pine tree assorted into crevices between the cobblestones.


A view of one of Java’s volcanic cones from Borobudur, possibly Mt. Merapi.


A view of Borobudur Temple from afar, rising from the jungle.

The Jakarta-Yogyakarta Train

Passing the edge of a city by train, Jakarta->Yogyakarta.

We’re bound by train to Yogyakarta, the “cultural capital” in southern Java that’s affectionately referred to as “Jogja”. Though a flight is only an hour compared to the train’s nine-hour trip, it’s nine hours well-spent admiring Java’s scenery.

Trees silhouetted against empty rice paddies.


Rice paddies thick with the greenery of rice plants in Southern Java.
Javanese dwellings on stilts.


A passenger texts while catching a ride on an ojek.
An unfocused photo of construction work on a river (likely for a bridge). 

This is the most densely-populated island in Indonesia, and villages, fields, and rice paddies speed by every second. Each moment is a snapshot of Java beyond the cities, where most people farm and know no other way of life. As we speed by, I imagine all of the knowledge they must have about farming and the seasons of Java—how to start rice shoots growing, when to plant them in the flooded paddies, when to harvest the rice plants, when to let a paddy lie fallow. I try to imagine what it must be like to push the rice seedling into the muddy water, feet sunk into the same mud that will nourish this rice plant as the sun beats down on my back. It’s hard work and I’m lucky I don’t have to do it, but I want to know how it feels.

Terraced fields near one of Java’s many volcanic cones.


A man plants young rice seedlings in a flooded paddy.
Farmers escape the heat of the day in a dwelling on the rice paddies. Most fields and paddies we passed had a shelter to hide from the sweltering tropical sun.


A farmer walks through lush, peridot-green rice paddies.
Farmers dump harvested rice from sacks for husking.
An ojek stands before a harvested rice paddy.

As people increasingly flock to Indonesia’s cities (a worldwide trend), the passage of this agricultural knowledge halts. Maybe one day it will disappear entirely, forgotten or as good as forgotten, left only in written texts. But hopefully someone here will see value in this knowledge and keep it alive.

An island in a sea of rice paddies. The erratic growth of the rice here might be from grains lost from the last harvest in a field now fallow.