Monday, August 30, 2010
The forefathers of the Singapore Arabs descend from the poor area of Hadhramaut in Yemen and had usually lived in Indonesia before as well. Arab street, together with Haji lane and Sutltan street also became known as 'Kampong Jawa', when Javanese muslims started trading here and use it as a gateway for the Haji pilgrimage. Today this neighbourhood has become an interesting mix of Arab shops and trendy eateries and Shisha houses. Especially the young and hip Malay crowd loves to go there after (or without) visiting the Mosque. It is also popular with backpackers and fellow nomads from around the world.
Saturday, August 28, 2010
Now Singapore has a Chinese majority of over 70%. But boasts a fully democratic system that garantuees equal rights for their Malay Muslim, Indian Hindu and even Eurasian Christian minorities. Much like Indonesia it strived for unity in their multi cultural country, however never by marginalising their minority cultures. This year the country celebrated 45 years of independence.
The Republic of Indonesia declared independence 20 years earlier and Singapore was able to learn from the struggles of their big next door neighbour, that put 'colonial' European languages low on the educational curricula. Singapore's official languages are Malay and English, together with Chinese and Indian. However most Singaporeans I spoke with are extremely proud to speak their creole language called Singlish, that mixes English with Malay, and Chinese and Indian words. Although the Singapore government is pushing for correct use of the English language, it's fascinating to hear a child say: "Nanti, I do it mum." " Dulu we walk walk see see, lah?"
Within their own communities people will speak their first language amongst each other. Be it a Chinese language, Indian language or Malay. Together they will speak either Singlish and only in semi-official settings, with expats or visitors or unclear situations they speak official English. In the neighbourhood I stayed (Tiong Bahru, an old nestling ground for succesful Chinese entrepeneurs) and Chinatown you will hear Chinese languages, in Little India Indian or Tamil languages and in a Malay neighbourhood like Geylang you will hear mostly Malay.
All in all Singapore is a captivating place where you can simply take the smooth subway system to different Asian villages within the big city. Although the city is pre-dominantly Chinese, in a Hong Kong sort of way, you will find a specific Chinatown, but also places like Arab street, Little India which on a sunday, day off, reminded me of Mumbai. And of course the Malay area of Geylang, which had a huge post Ramadan pasar malam on its busy streets, where street hawkers were selling sate kambing and pisang goreng, very much reminiscent of Indonesia.
I must admit coming from the rougher street scenes of urban Indonesia, arriving in effective and efficient Singapore was somewhat of a culture shock. I admired the cleanliness of the city compared to the terrible waste disposal habits in Indonesia, but also missed the liberating sense of freedom of seemingly unorganised Indonesia. The first days I kept looking for the city's underbelly and felt happy to finally find the Malay mean streets where I could enjoy my 'es teler' and smell the street hawkers 'goreng' and grill. Somehow it was only then that a Nomad could really feel at home.
Friday, August 27, 2010
"Why did you ever decide to go back to Indonesia?", was one of my first questions. "Why?" he says and his eyes betray the obvious simplicity of the answer to my question. "I never wanted to leave." "I cried for weeks when my father decided to leave Indonesia." "I was a young child then and I had experienced a freedom here that I never again felt in the Netherlands. I knew every backstreet, every street corner's nook and cranny of our home town of Semarang."
"One day I just had enough", he says firmly."Living in an apartment complex, but not knowing anyone. Standing in elevators either at home or in the office and no one exchanging a word. I tried. I tried to connect, tried to talk to people, but to no avail. One day I just could not take it anymore and I just started to take the stairs. My work as an illustrator also started to reflect my frustration." For Om it all became crystal clear. "I thought deeply what I wanted from my life and if I wanted to end up an old man alone in a retiree home still surrounded by strangers. No! It was time to go."
"Oh... my sisters were so mad at me for leaving", he says with a smile. "You have a great job here in the Netherlands, they told me. But once I finally settled in and they visited me they saw it was all right. Especially Cobi often visited me. I never knew what your Grandpa, my oldest brother thought of it. He was such a quiet and introvert man you see. Much like my sister Loulou, who was also too inapprehensible to me." (The sister married to an Indonesian Ambonese man and the only one of my great grandparents children that had never left Indonesia.) "I think my younger brother was the only one that for a while contemplated following me here."
"The first half year in Indonesia I spent on Ambon the home island of our family. The resident Raja of Passo was a governmental official on Ambon. You know that we descend from the Raja of Passo right? Although I told him I just wanted to explore the roots of my family, he was afraid that I would claim our lands in Passo. He was somewhat of a gambler and had sold off much of our ancestral lands. We believe that he arranged for my extended visa application to expire forcing us to leave Ambon."
"My time on Ambon was beautiful though. Unlike when I came to Jakarta and really had to adjust and climatise, on Ambon I immediately felt at home. I found our families 'Pela' village of 'Batu Merah' and made many friends there. Life was perfect. Just imagine sailing into the ocean to fish and afterwards grill and eat the fish on the beach. Until very recently I even had a house there on 'Pantai Rumah Tiga'. My friends and I built a house of stone and wood on the beach. Sadly it was destroyed during the civil unrest a few years back. The only awkward thing sometimes was the extreme 'hormat' I received for being of Raja descent. " When Om arrived in Jakarta from Ambon due to the expiration of his visa he decided he could not leave Indonesia and simply stayed put in Jakarta. He remembers staying at home the first 3 months just reading newspapers and studying 'Behasa Indonesia', before venturing into down town Jakarta. The Raja now took the simplest of jobs as a street vendor, selling comics. But that first night in Jakarta's urban jungle, squatting in 'jongkok' position, having a meal with the street hawkers and chatting with his fellow street vendors he knew he was home. This was almost 25 years ago.
Om eventually made a living as a painter and illustrator, build a home and surrounded himself with a family that adores him. A few years back his wife passed away. But the loving family he always wanted around him in the winter of his life is right there beside him.
A Nomad cant but admire his exceptional relative.
But the moment we actually arrive in Jakarta the trouble begins. 'Kantor' Jakartans finish working around 16:00 and we get stuck in some seriously tedious traffic. Too many people owning a motorised vehicle and too few roads to accommodate. Sounds like the situation back home. With no means to escape the urban madness we move slower and slower through this skyscrapers' jungle.
Jakarta is Indonesia's capital with a population that by far exceeds the total number of people living in the Netherlands, a country considered overpopulated. It's the country's governmental, financial, judicial, political, academic, media and whatever else you can think of center. Long ago it was established as Batavia, the business and colonial headquarters of both the VOC and Dutch East Indies.
Thursday, August 26, 2010
I am staying at the oldest surviving hotel of the city, a beautiful example of late colonial architecture and fully renovated. I stay at an affordable 'Harga Ramadan' and most of the guests are Muslims returning home for 'Lebaran'. Maybe I am sleeping in the room Charlie Chaplin once occupied I wonder, when I enjoy my breakfast. Breakfast here serves both brown bread and cheese, as well as 'Bubur Ketan Hitam' and 'Pisang Goreng'. A Nomad is unsure where to start... Strolling through the old city center of Bandung I figure it must have been a real long time ago this city was called the Paris of Java. But nonetheless there are some prime preserved specimen of old colonial 'art deco' architecture. Wandering through town and not being hasseled by tourist hawkers I soon start to feel quite homey. Thinking somehow a Nomad is supposed to stroll these streets. How these places have so much roots in bygone days and so many of my displaced nomadic peoples have had lives here. Not before long a song starts stirring my mind. I wonder if this nation is ready to welcome nomads back...
"Manusia Nusantara tidak lupa. Ada anak dari jauw..."
When I leave Bandung to take the newly build highway connection to Jakarta I see a shop sign along the road reading: 'Klappertaart' a Bandung speciality.
I am on my way to meet Om Pieter, my grandfathers' younger brother in Jakarta, who had decided long ago that he would live and die in the land of his birth and not stay a Nomad.
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Riding through Jogja the whole spectrum of both ancient and popular culture is clear to see for those that care to look. Traditional batik cloth is sold together with impressionist batik paintings and there are more shops selling trendy 'KAOS' t-shirts than there are traditional wayang kulit and wayang golek shops. A high frequency of high quality graffiti street art alternates with art deco buildings from the colonial era and of course the old Javanese palaces.
When I arrive at the Sultan's water palace 'Taman Sari' I meet Andreas, a Christian descendant of a long line of 'Sultan's people'. His father and all his predecessors were assigned to specific tasks relating to the Sultan's household. Today his father is in fact a 'koster' at the Church, but much to his son's dismay still returns to the Kraton every week to perform his assigned task: 'Clean the Sultan's toilet'.
Andreas is a well educated man of a whole new generation. He was chosen by the Unesco at the top of his class to perform tasks of a different caliber. He is also an artist that paints beautiful batik paintings. One of which I gladly purchased seeing his emotions of the moment portrayed in splendid colours. Paradoxically Andreas, a modern man, is frustrated by the fact that much of the traditional society around the palace will be disturbed and uprooted by planned real estate development.
I wonder if the Sultan may have been influenced by the new upper class Jakarta socialites in his inner circle of friends, when he decided the homes of his people around 'Taman Sari' must make way to build luxury villas around it. Small apartment complexes have been constructed to hide away the Sultans people. Andreas parents have already moved into their new home. Modern habitats that in fact leave little space for the traditional arts of batik. When Andreas confronted his parents with their meek reaction to these developments the traditional ways actually appear to facilitate their own downfall, as his father replied by saying that in his life he would bow to only One vertically, but also to one horizontally.
I now decide the price is right and say, "I really don't have that kind of money on me anymore. Is should go to my hotel and see if I got enough cash." "Where are you staying?, my museum friend asks. "Dagen street, just off Marlioboro main street." "Oh, I can drop you off and take you back or we can call the Wayang maker from there." That sounds good, I think, as it is quite a walk back and its getting late. So there I am back on the bike and racing to my hotel. I find the cash and before long were back on our way to see the Wayang maker.
I walk in the wayang (work) shop and smile: "Hello again." Surprised the Wayang maker welcomes us back. My museum friend explains and hopes the Wayang maker will accept 450 for the 2 unfinished wayang puppets. But the Wayang maker is adamant and isn't planning to move down from his bottom price. My friend from the museum seems startled and I re-start negotiations to no avail. Now my museum friend looks disappointed and in English tells me (and indirectly the wayang maker) he is sorry that he already promised me 450 was okay and to make up for it he would take me to the train station to get my ticket to Bandung for tomorrow.
I take this as my cue to give it one more shot and enthusiastically tell him how I want to frame the wayang pieces to show the wayang making process and that I truly respect and appreciate his art. The wayang maker looks me over and finally changes his mind. The negotiations have reached their final play. "This time I will agree to 450." he tells me, "Next time you pay 500." "Next I might very well buy more and you should drop your price." I smile and we start laughing. "Kurang ajar, ini."
The wayang maker starts packing my newly purchased wayang kulit puppets and in a good mood we chat on about family and art. Happy I jump on the back of my friends bike one final time as he takes me all the way back to my hotel. On our way back I wonder what I should give him to compensate for all the trouble, when he starts explaining that he didn't help me for money but for points.
I wasn't sure if I understood him correctly and ask him to elaborate. He tells me the museum director is a wise and experienced man that had introduced a point system. The more points you gather, by for instance assisting visitors, the better your job position in the museum gets. I ask him if I should tell someone how well he helped me out, but he responds with: "They already know".
I must agree. This director is indeed a wise man. I am delighted by this charming and unique approach towards tourism in a country that is often in a rat race for the rupiah. A Nomad is hopeful that this surely is another sign that Indonesia is entering a new dawn.
A bit further along I find the museum for Wayang arts and meet with the resident Dalang. After an interesting conversation in english and a very detailed explanation of the wayang production process I have a look at the Wayang Kulit puppets for sale, but see nothing particularly unique.
The workshop is still open and the 'wayang kulit' maker greets me. He is the last of a long line of wayang kulit dalang. Even though he is a proficient puppet maker he doesnt practice the art of dalang himself. "My father and grandfather were also dalang. But I am just a puppet maker." "It's much too hard to be a dalang." he says. "A dalang must know at least 300 characters and all their scripts and scenarios from memory." "Susah." When I ask if the way of making the wayang kulit has changed over the generations he takes me to the back of the workshop and shows me a 19th century antique puppet that his grandfather had made. They are still the same. The stories and puppets do not change he says, but each dalang will have his own indivdual style of playing.
Then the museum guy tells him what I'm looking for and first he shows me some unpainted wayang kulit puppets. I wander around the workshop and find his workplace. Here I see the puppets he is working on and I tell him that this is what I am looking for. In slight disbelieve I am shown many other things, until time passes and I return to the unfinished puppets in the workplace asking him to give me his price for them. He pases through the shop in search for alternative things to sell and time passes. I sit down at the worktable and ask if it's permitted to smoke. "Smoking clears the mind", he says. Just what we need I think and time passes.
Finally he establishes his price for the unfinished puppets and the bargaining game begins once again. I have set my mind on 200. He starts out with 800, but his examples of the validity of this price are all for finished products. So he moves down with large steps, while I move up with baby steps until he reaches his bottom price of 500 and I am still on 300. Which much ado I step up one more time to 350, just find that he has reached his minimum price. I explain my predicament and my budget as I need 150 for a train ticket to Bandung the next day. But we have reached our status quo and he says that maybe next time I can come back and buy at his bottom price. "Yes maybe next time." I say. "No hard feelings", he replies and the bargaining has ended.
It is early in the evening and the air is filled with song, when the mosques start their praise to Allah. I hop on the back of the museum guys motor cycle and we head back to the museum...
TO BE CONTINUED (See Part II)
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
This was a taxi driver with an outspoken opinion on architecture.
Monday, August 23, 2010
Although Java is a pre-dominantly Muslim island, much of the arts of the old Javanese culture are in fact rooted in it's Hindu traditions. The 'Dalang', master puppet player at the Jogja(Sonobudoyo) museum, is adamant muslim Javanese are quite aware that their Hindu heritage is an integral part of their identity. "These arts and traditions were here long before we became muslim.", he says. He also ensures me the nightly 'Wayang Kulit' shows are not performed for the sole benefit of tourists and is in fact still quite popular with the natives. The fact that he will be the last in a long line of Dalang as his children have decided upon different careers does however indicate times are changing.
Fortunately for the old arts, ever since the Sukarno government started solidifying a strong national consciousness in the 50's, all indigenous culture, especially the Javanese Hindu one, was heavily promoted. Jogjakarta's cultural manifestations also enjoyed support from Indonesia's second president: Suharto. A Jogjakarta area native Suharto, Indonesia longest ruling president, was often called the great puppeteer of Indonesia himself.
Jogjakarta is also the only place in the entire nation where the old nobility retained a certain degree of political and governing power. Having been consistent in opposing both Dutch and Japanese colonials the Sultan of Jogjakarta had earned great respect among the republican revolutionaries. The Jogjakarta sultanate might be considered the closest thing to an authentic Indonesian Royal family. Another reason Jogjakarta remained at the center of Javanese cultural manifestation as much of its high culture had been developed and performed at the courts.
Strolling into town along the busy Marlioboro main street, which runs down from the railway station to the city's center at the Kraton (Royal Palace) I catch glimpses of old colonial architecture before I take a turn right to explore a Batik work shops and galleries. A common ploy to lure visitors to Batik shops along M.street is to tell them they are extremely lucky to find this is the last day of a national Batik artist exhibition in town. This will then take them to the shops. Which isn't too bad if you want to see some good Jogja batik like me.
I arrive at a (work)shop where I am explained the process of the Batik art and able to look at a wide range of pieces. My eye soon catches an artist with an explosive and detailed abstract style and after due deliberation and taking care in choosing the finest pieces I decide to start the bargaining game. The prices are quite steep with 'fixed' prices for medium size pieces starting at 750.000 rupiah. As both domestic and foreign tourists tend to buy at top prices regularly it's hard to get prices down, but I manage to get 3 beautiful pieces for 500.000 each. I am sure on a better day I could have done better, but I am very happy with my purchases.
The red piece.
With regret I find myself unable to afford a fourth piece, a 2 by 1 meter big red piece of the same well known Batik artist. The start price was 3.5 million and the shop wont go lower than 2 million, while I had decided that 1 million was my best price for this remarkable piece. Soon after leaving the shop with my newly bought Batik paintings, a young kid comes out of nowhere. I had noticed him in the shop earlier where he was paying close attention to the bargaining. He tells me he is the son of the painter and his father is in need of money and willing to sell the piece directly to me without involving the shop. Scam or no scam, the beautiful red piece flashes before my eyes. I am such a sucker for expresive colours...
So scam or no scam, even without the assertive son of a hospitalised ill painter in need of cash, I am willing to buy the red piece at my bottom price. The young man tries to get 1.5, but I stick to my price. An hour later my beloved big red batik piece is brought to my hotel and is finally in my possession. For a moment I can't decide to admire or abhore the Javanese talent for elaborate scheming. Or perhaps just consider myself lucky that the painters son was in attendance and offered me this opportunity. In any case it was an interesting experience and one thing is for certain the big red piece sure is beautiful.
Thursday, August 19, 2010
Thursday morning the 19th of August in the hillside Puncak Waringin Hotel in Labuan Bajo, Flores, I finish my delicious cup of sweet Flores coffee, taking a last look at the splendid Nusa Tenggara sunrise. 20 minutes and 20.000 rupiah later I arrive at the airport to board my domestic flight to Denpasar, Bali.
During check in my 'barang', trolley, is put on the scale. 21 kilos, only one kilo over the max of intra island flights. Just as I planned when I put all the heavy stuff in my hand bag. But then they ask me to step on the scale as well. Carrying my hand luggage... Now that gave me a flashback to all the times the past few months that my beloved wife stepped on the airport scale during each single check-in, just to be told to get off. How ironic my fellow Nomad wasn't here this time.
At the airport of Denpasar I arrange a Hotel in the Legian neighborhood, next to Kuta. I asked for something cheap in Seminyak, but that doesnt exist apparently. So there I am walking the day away through the familiar chaos of Bali's southern tourist areas. Plenty of familiar spots and a lot of the recognisable south Bali street hustle. But unlike past visits somehow this time it struck me as boring and even irritating. Maybe it was the culture shock coming from Flores or perhaps because this time I got here in less than 2 hours, unlike the long international flights from Amsterdam airport.
How quickly these sentiments melted away once I purchase a Bali baopao from a street vendor. "Satu berapa, Pak? Tiga ribu. Ow boleh ya. Minta satu." Yummie. In high spirits I continue for a 6 hour city hike through the urban jungle of Kuta, Legian and Seminyak, only to stop at a 'Warung Minang Kabau' for dinner. "Mau makan? Ya silahkan. Satu porsi sateh Sumatera. Pakai longtong? Enak. Minum apa? Teh botol. Tigabelas ribu rupiah, pak." It's so easy to make this Nomad happy.
Walking these streets the continues moaning of the words "transpor???" and "massaash???" sound funny. Especially the occasional "hasjies???" make me laugh out loud. I cant help myself with responding with: "No, I'm from Amsterdam." Some things never change, but some things have changed. The street hustlers seem to have become fluent in Japanese and sometimes mistake me for a 'Samurai', or 'Sumo' perhaps. The Japanese tourists seem to like it I notice. Unfortunately for severely stunned street hustlers I feel the need to reply in kasar Malay.
I switch profiles along the way though. Speaking Indonesian when I want to purchase with locals at local prices. (Food mostly of course) English in the upscale shops. But always say 'Belanda' when they ask me where I'm from. The lady at the Jakarta owned Indonesian fashion shop 'Pithecan Thropus' seemed shocked by my reply, even though we had been speaking English all along. "But your face is Indonesian?!?", she stammers. Well I guess it is then, when she says so. From then on I start noticing the street hustlers sometimes look unsure how to approach me and when they cant make up their mind sometimes refrain from their usual moans. I guess their thinking: "Dari mana dia? Bule, tidak. Jepang? Jakarta?"
Another clear change to previous visits is the number of French here. Also on my slow boat to Nusa Tenggara they were in the majority. I guess they must love Bali. There's high culture, great cuisine... and it's cheap. And of course you can smoke anywhere you like. Well let's see what happens when Bali completes its' implementation of their new smoking regulations, prohibiting smoking in all public areas and law breaking smokers can be jailed for up to 3 months.
So far so good for a smoking Nomad.
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
We have been sailing the Nusa Tenggara seas for days now and are reaching the end of our boat trip. About 45 sailing minutes from our final destination in Flores we have one more stop at a beautiful deserted isle called Kelor, with a fine white beach and a bustling underwater life. It’s hard to say goodbye, but from the beach of this little isle we can already see our last port of call in the distance.
Finally we reach Labuan Bajo on the main island of Flores the furthest point of my voyage to the wild wild east of Indonesia. Labuan Bajo is a relaxed, but still unpolished little fishermen’s port in the west of Flores island. International tourism is moving eastwards and the port is slowly expanding its’ facilities to accommodate visitors. The only thing I really craved for however was a good shower.
Still it was hard to find a room and the place I’m staying at often loses electricity. Roads are rough and fresh water supply is irregular. Cultural activity like the bloody Caci fights are held for the benefit of the community and not led by commercial incentives. Last but not least visitors can purchase at local prices unlike most of Bali and much of Lombok where visitors can expect to be ripped off.
Live mostly continues to the pace of native drums and a Nomad is taking a few days of reflection to write.
The Portuguese Indos of Flores.
Centuries before the Dutch had conquered the Nusantara Islands the Portuguese had ventured into this South East Asian archipelago in search for fabled riches. From their trading post settlements the first Indo-European communities evolved. Heavily hybrid in nature holding on to Portuguese dress, language and religion, but having strong influences from the indigenous islanders they integrated with. One such Portuguese Indo society was based in the port city of Larantuka in East Flores, on the opposite side of Labuan Bajo in West Flores.
The Larantuqueiros, as these original Indos called themselves, were a sub-division of a greater seafaring Portuguese Indo community called the Topasses (the hat wearing people or people of 2 languages), some of which fled from the Portuguese settlements in the South Moluccas, when the Dutch established dominance there. The Dutch called these pre-colonial Indos the ‘Black Portuguese’ and remained in conflict and competition with them long after the ‘totok’ Portuguese had surrendered to the Dutch flag.
Being native to the land the Topasses never retreated to Portugal and remained active as seafaring traders, building their own trading post settlements from Flores and Solor to Timor in East Nusa Tenggara. Proficient in maritime navigation, as well as western warfare, the Topasses became a powerful and independent entity dominating the sandalwood trade for 200 years. Being racially and culturally mixed they also easily established strong ties with the indigenous peoples.
"These [the Topasses] have no Forts, but depend on their Alliance with the Natives: And indeed they are already so mixt, that it is hard to distinguish whether they are Portugueze or Indians. Their Language is Portugueze; and the religion they have, is Romish. They seem in Words to acknowledge the King of Portugal for their Sovereign; yet they will not accept any Officers sent by him. They speak indifferently the Malay and their own native Languages (Note: Portuguese Petjok), as well as Portugueze." Diaries of British Brigadier William Dampier, 1699.
Unlike smaller Portuguese Indo communities and families, at large the Topasses never integrated much with the Dutch colonials. Nowadays in fact the Topasses have mostly assimilated into the indigenous people of Flores, Solor and Timor. However their influence in Flores is still discernible in language, culture and religion. In Timor many of the royal Raja families still descend from the Topasses.
There are old roots here a Nomad identifies with...