A Peek Into Kampung Life in Yogyakarta

joga kampung

Along Yogyakarta’s Code River, small self-sufficient communities, or kampungs, are quietly bustling with birdsong and the sounds of children playing in its alleyways. (JG)

Most maps of Yogyakarta show three rivers running through the city: the Winingo, the Code and the Gajahwong, but these ribbons of brackish water barely get noticed by most visitors more interested in shopping on Malioboro or checking out the Hindu temples that encircle the city.

Yogyakarta isn’t known as a riverine city. The waters flowing through it don’t define the place in the way London is defined by the Thames, Paris by the Seine or Bangkok by the Chao Phraya.

But in the words of documentary makers and travel writers the world over, the river banks teem with life. In this case perhaps not wildlife, that is confined to a few caged birds, but human. While the Jakarta elite frets economic growth may fall below 6 percent in 2015, people along these rivers worry more about flooding and making ends meet.

The Code River is the middle of the city’s three rivers. Starting its life on the slopes of sacred Mount Merapi, a live volcano that plays a significant role in the traditions and folklore of the Javanese in these parts, the Code heads south through the city and meanders its way onwards through the countryside before emptying itself into the waters of the southern Indian Ocean.

The kampungs — small, almost self-sufficient communities — that hug the river show another Indonesia. A more traditional one that struggles to keeps its identity faced with economic growth and a more aspiring society.

Joining a tour from a cafe on Jl. Prawirotaman, just to the south of the keraton, or palace, that lies at the heart of the city, we soon found ourselves immersed in the narrow alleyways, known as gang, of a kampung.

Karang Anyar is unremarkable. In the early afternoon, children are playing in the alleyways, smiling and calling out to the visitors, posing happily for photographs before collapsing in peals of laughter. Men sit around and smoke unhurriedly. In fact, nothing in the kampung seems to be done at any speed.

Most doors and windows of the small houses are open, as much to catch some breeze as to stickybeak passers-by.

There are plenty of trees but the sound of birdsong comes from those in cages hanging outside people’s houses. Our guide told us it was human nature to control nature. Maybe. But given Merapi’s frequent pyrotechnics, people here are more prone to being controlled by the whims of nature  — perhaps a caged bird is seen as one small victory in a battle they can never win.

Crossing a busy main road we are temporarily reminded of another reality of life in Indonesia: traffic. It is with great relief that we plunge headlong back into another kampung, Kerparakan Kidul.

This community seems a little bit stricter than the previous one. A sign on a rare patch of open land implores its residents to stay away from drugs, alcohol and sex before marriage if they don’t want to have a bad time in the afterlife. Interestingly, there is no mention of avoiding corruption.

At the security post, guests are requested to check in with the community leaders. Some kampungs enforce this more strictly than others. Our guide told us about where he lived; one new family moved into the area and as ever, the newcomers were treated with suspicion.

These doubts increased when it was found a young man would stay over at the house frequently.

The villagers, no doubt offended by this callous behavior, reported their concerns to the community head who approached the new family. It turned out the head of the family was away often on business and this young guy came round to look after the house and family.

The villagers didn’t like this either and said he couldn’t stay anymore. The villagers, would look after everything because that is what they do in the
kampungs: they look after their own.

Each of the kampungs we passed through had its own security post, little more than a small hut. Inside, on the walls, was a roster showing which of the residents would be on guard duty on which night. And these people would be responsible for the security of the village at night time, occasionally doing their rounds checking everything was all right.

Keparakan Kidul’s alleyways were even narrower than Karang Anyar’s. At times the pathway, if it can be called that, was just a meter or so wide while low hanging corrugated sheeted roofs provided another obstacle for the tall ones.

Despite being so close to the river, people had no fresh running water. Instead they had to draw it from wells manually every time they wanted to bathe or do their laundry.

From the outside it didn’t seem like much was going on. Our guide, by now desperate for a cigarette but not
succumbing out of respect to his non smoking guests, stood and chatted a while with one man about his T-shirt designs. The guide wants him to try and sell them but the man is not convinced.

But within the cramped shacks business was thriving. We stopped by one such dwelling that was perhaps no more than two metres wide and peered into the dark recesses. Inside, a television was on next to it the familiar sight of a computer screen. And that was pretty much the full extent of artificial light beyond a solitary bulb that wasn’t strong enough to tell the time from.

Yet amid this almost Dickensian atmosphere was a thriving economy. The gentleman who both lived and worked here made gifts for weddings and judging by the wares he showed us, he will be busy for the next few months.

Moving on, we then met a local lady made good. She had relatively large, well-lit premises for making handbags.

Ibu Sugiman had started making handbags back in 1989. Initially they were bought by a middleman who would then sell them locally and in Bali, but eventually she was tracked down by a Japanese buyer who started buying direct, increasing her turnover.

Business was brisk even in such humble conditions and Sugiman now employs four people, had the workshop as well as a showroom/home where she paraded her bags as well as her sideline business: selling caged birds, some of which were sold for around $1,000.

Down by the river there was another row of cramped dwellings. One lithe, young man sat outside his small shack putting the finishing touches to a pile of leather sandals. The whole area was a hotbed of cottage industries and their success was shown in the amount of construction work going on as new houses, as well as a sports hall were going up.

For all the activities along the river bank, the actual water itself is a mess. People continue to throw their trash into the stream, which, in turn, provides opportunities for the less fortunate who wade the waters looking for rubbish that may have a resale value.

There is, though, a growing environmental awareness sparked in part by the flooding of 2010 that followed a Merapi eruption. There are many signs warning against throwing trash in the river while students from the local universities have been active in encouraging locals to do something about the river.

Even politics are having a small impact on attempts to keep the river clean. Different parties and organizations have held town hall meetings on the topic while one group has held a number of events, including fishing competitions, to try and promote a healthier, cleaner river.

We emerged back on the main road one last time as our walk along the Code River came to an end. It had been a humbling experience.

One of the guests, an economist from New York, was suitably impressed by the industry she had seen even though it didn’t always fit in with the models developed by people in her highly
educated, highly paid industry.

Down here, at the real grass roots, government and big business remain very far away. Many of the people we met didn’t venture into the center of Yogyakarta let along Jakarta. Ignored by the central government for so long, mocked on Jakarta-centric TV shows as buffoons, along the banks of the river people lived by their own code, a code that many city dwellers have long forgotten. – Jakarta Globe

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Must Visit Destinations in Jayapura

Lake Sentani

Lake Sentani

As the capital of Papua Province, Jayapura has developed into one of the most advanced and busy cities in the province. But not many people know about attractive sites that are offered by the city. Despite its less-famed touristic destinations compared to Raha Ampat, Jayapura owns many natural beauties that will captivate any wondering eyes.

There are three most-recommended sites in Jayapura you can put on your travel list.

  1. Lake Sentani

This is the largest lake in Papua and one of three largest lakes in Indonesia. It is situated not far from Sentani Airport, Jayapura. It is not difficult to reach the lake because the road will take you along the lake soon as you exit the airport on your way to Jayapura downtown.

The lake offers stunning views that combine the blue of the lake water and the green of the mountain ranges. One of the best places to enjoy this view is from a region called Khalkotte, which is prepared for tourists. Once every year, the region hosts the impressive Lake Sentani Festival.

Trying the distinctive culinary of papeda and snakehead murrel soup a la Sentani would also be an enjoyable alternative.

  1. McArthur Hill

McArthur hill is located in Ifar Gunung region not far from Sentani Airport. The hill is a witness of the arrival of the US army in Papua during the World War II. Here, General Douglas MacArthur stayed for preparation for the battle against the Japanese army.

To reach the hill, you have to go through a meandering and uphill road between canyon and Cyclops mountains. Since the area is within the area of military installation, you will be asked to leave your ID card at the guard station.

What’s more than its historical tale is the hill’s panoramic scenery. You can see the stretch of Lake Sentani and the airport. Best time to be on the hill is in the afternoon before the sun goes down.

  1. Base G Beach

The beach’s name may sound unfamiliar, but the Base G beach is more than worth a visit. It is not far from Jayapura, only about 15 minutes drive. You will be charged Rp10,000 at the entrance for parking. If you plan to spend the whole day at the beach, guesthouses are available for Rp150,000 for the whole day.

Base G’s best spot is at the end near the rocky hill. There, you can feel the sea waves pounding on the big reefs. The colors exhibited by the yellowish-white sand meeting with splashes of waves are captivating. Further in the ocean, the color turns blue, blending with clear tosca before finally meeting the blue of the sky.

In certain times, the tide is high since the beach faces directly to the Pacific ocean. During these times, swimming is too risky. However, sitting by the beach with the wind breezing would be enough.

So, if you happen to be in Jayapura for some business, take some time to visit those three destinations. Jayapura will never let you down. – Tempo

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Trying out a new warung

I’ve mentioned once or twice about how they are renovating the square (actually a triangle) in front of my apartment. Several new food stalls (warungs) are part of the renovation. One of the stalls is actually more of a cart, selling turkey wraps, or geros. I tried one once, and while it was tasty, I couldn’t finish it because it was too spicy for me.

There is a warung facing my apartment that was fascinating me as it developed. It ended up taking the whole side of the park with four different glass shelf displays, plus the open area where a young woman, presumably the wife of the owner, cooks. I can see her nightly from my perch three stories above as she cooks various meals in her wok. It’s really quite entertaining.

I really wanted to try the food, but I think I was hesitating because it would be entering a different world, having to deal with the language problem, understanding whether what I ordered would be edible for me, eating dinner in a small park occupied by only locals. Basically, I was afraid to explore.

Shame on me.

Tonight, I blustered up the courage, poured myself a good-sized drink, and ventured down to this no-name dining establishment. As I asked for a menu (knowing I wouldn’t know what I was ordering), I looked around at all the Indonesian faces, many of them looking at me as if to say, “What are you doing here?”

Then a chunky man, sitting right next to me, pulled out one of the chairs at the closest table and asked me to join him and his friend. Surprisingly, I accepted. What ensued was a constant back and forth while I waited for my order and while I ate. Aria (spelling ?) spoke some English and had been a sailor in the past, once docking in San Francisco.

He asked me where I was from and I told him the U.S., and he wanted to know where in the U.S., so I told him Florida. And he said, “Yes, San Francisco.” Apparently, his main geographic reference point for the U.S. is San Francisco.

I ordered the Nasi goreng ayam special (rice with chicken in a special seasoning) because it was the only item I saw on the menu with ayam (chicken). I wanted some meat with my rice or noodles.

The chicken was delicious, but like all the chicken here the meat was scarce. The rice was delicious also, but it was too spicy for me to eat it all, although I did do a pretty good job on a big plate of food. Sorry, no photos, but I plan to bring the camera next time to feature the warung on my blogs. I was full, nonetheless.

The tab: Rp2,500 ($2.25) plus a 45-cent tip.

I may have to start rethinking my strategy of buying groceries and cooking my own meals, at least for one meal a day. It might actually me cheaper to eat out than in.

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