Yogyakarta Travel Blog

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Man and ox working the fields. This picture was taken by Nadine and graciously sent to me after I lost a bag containing all of my film from the first 8 days on this trip


June 21


You see Western wanderers on this road, but not many. Catherine, another Canadian we hooked up with, broke her ankle two days ago. Hit by a motorcycle. I didn't get to know her well.  She may have been Canadian but we didn't seem to have much in common. & this summer I have even less faith that our massive homeland ties anything together as a matter of course.  Perhaps we both left home, in part, to avoid the ennui of another great Canadian constitutional dilemma.  "Words Words Words."   I was with her when it happened.   We were out searching Jogya for post offices and malaria pills.  Specific things.  Specific places.


The accident has been playing over and over in my mind; always in slow motion.

Java jungle scene
  As if it were something I saw on TV and I've hit the replay button:  there is the motorcycle exploding from behind a rare break in third-world city traffic.  We'd been waiting five minutes for the opportunity to cross.  & there is Catherine.  In the middle of the street, hesitating.  Tabulating the momentum she needs to offset motorcycle avoid being hit... and getting it wrong.  There's the screech of applied brakes accompanying her crumpling form.  & me running, forever running, in that awesome heat, to get help.  Then the internationally nauseous gray-green of hospital walls.


                                                                & waiting waiting


The scenes are strangely disconnected.   Like stills put together in a flip book.  It's the heat I think.  & the displacement.

more Java jungle
  Images are only starting to come together now

                                                                      (and then)



gaps and spaces


"I could tell you stories"  my grandfather would say, ruffling my hair as he lifted me onto his lap in the days before my father died.  He'd boast of single-handedly having done away with the German Kaiser, back in 1918.  & I would always squeal with delight when he got to the part where he was rounding the corner, weapon ready, fixing his sights;  tho I never thot to ask who the Kaiser was, or what made him the bad guy.  Years later I confidently replace the old voice behind his stories with textbook enhanced contexts.  They were only stories after-all.  I know when and how the Kaiser really died.  ...Still, I recall how surprised I was when I learned that one of the many poems Grandpa used to recite--standing with his hand over his heart as if it were a proclamation or an oath--was actually written by William Butler Yeats.  As a child, growing up in a large rural family in Saskatchewan, my grandfather attended a country school, irregularly, for exactly three years of his life.  This spring I completed my 10th year of university.  I study stories.  Literature.


"And i could tell you stories...."  Except. For days now I have been wondering at the gaps and spaces happening here.  I have only pieces.  Not stories.  Like nothing so much as fragmented memory clips, without plot line. no beginning, middle, or end.


In one:

                                       light glowing on a volcano

                                                                       4:15 am

my companions and I: seven shadows, stooped over catching our collective breath after climbing, forever climbing, to Marapi's look-out.


Straightening my spine, I take in the dark horizon with its slightly darker mountain cone.


                                                red light glowing on the volcano


"Wait!" I shout. They're about to move on... "Watch"  "Look!" the light glows longer and longer. spreading like neon red molasses spilling down the slope





I hear the faint crackle of trees falling and smell sulfur and burning wood on the breeze.


            ...then we're climbing again. on and on.


or in another clip:

Hundreds of Indonesian faces flash by.  Floating like a collage.  People lining the road as we drive past.  So many people.  Everywhere we drive past.  Our truck draws attention; we are not your ordinary Western visitors.  Funny: the draw to the out-of-the-ordinary.  Freeze frame: a look of incomprehension and curiosity colouring their beautiful features.  Then as the film begins rolling: I see them pointing at us again. They're laughing and waving, and buzzing among themselves like we are from another planet.  "Tourists!  ha!"  They speak our strangeness with their native words.  "We" are on display... & it is like another planet.


        what do they see?


sometimes I resent my "we"  I resent being from the west with our three "c" excuse for culture:


     "consume in comfort and convenience"




Yesterday at a KFC of all places, talking about Johnny. We're escaping the heat in a place that sells air conditioning as if it were an excuse for food.  How much escaping can you do? --culture being a history of gravity always sucking you back.  I think about this travel shtick. My tongue searching out examples on the humidity of the artificial air.  Johnny is a true wanderer. He told me he has been on the road for seven years.  From no where now, not attached to anything.  & they called him cynical.


         it started the night before:


Johnny: [musing between recurrently materializing beers in pint sized brown bottles]  Here we are traveling in their country. We're doing all this, with our traveling water, and our food; our families' petty struggles back home.  Compared to their suffering.


Nadine:  So why don’t you do something if you care so much. Join a relief agency or something.


Johnny: Relief agencies.  [A nervous hand waves in the air.  Then he takes a long drag on cigarette. ] There's nothing we can do.  Who are we? [bottle to lips] We can't do anything [a shrug  no one in particular]



character sketch:

Johnathan Southeby


intense and all the wrong ways

an attractive if somewhat slobbish in-your-face attitude to his “proper” English background.  Nothing to look at (having long ago forgotten how to care about taking care of himself)--yet everything about him makes you want to look.  Of course, there's the problem of so much potential being watered/washed down with so much beer... & then,  I suspect he carries too much baggage for a wanderer...too many hidden secrets following him from A to B. 


When I think of Johnny, I am tempted to fall into the hyperbole of his archaic melancholy. I took a Classics class in my second year of undergraduate study, and I remember being struck particularly by one dusty old Greek philosopher.  The way Johnny's shoulders sometimes slump recalls a section of The Purifications.  I looked it up when I got home:


There is an old condition, a decree of Gods

eternal and sealed with extensive oaths, that if the spirit blessed with long-lasting life

should by sin or error defile itself...

                                 he shall wander

                 thirty thousand years

                        apart from the blest,

born through time in various mortal forms,

switching through the painful tracks of life.

The air

           haunts them into the sea

                                   the sea

spits them onto the land

                                   the earth

spurns them into the sun

                                   and the sunlight

beats them into the whirling air,

                                   passed on by all

hated by each,

          and I am one of them,

a fugitive from God, a wanderer

captivated by maniacal Strife

            abhorring intolerable Necessity.





The attraction each person holds for us has much to do with their hauntings.  Their secrets.  The boomers would have us traveling the world to discover ourselves. A lost quest of the hippy-sixties, enshrined by the freak-zones they established around the globe.  But, me, I am not in Indonesia--shifting between their thereness, and my here--in order to find myself.  Their memories, the stories of each person I am meeting captivate me. No. No matter how hard I try, my story will never come out like my grandfather's.  The line between "we" and "they" is foggy.  I face my generation's skepticism.   & I have no Kaiser to make my actions bold.




Today we are at Borobudur.  Buddhist temple built in 750 and re-discovered twelve centuries later under the intense green and the overwhelming fecundity of the jungle in a now Moslem country. They came, they saw, and they build, they disappeared, they were found again.  rise. decline. fall.  ...& these walls only hint at story.  There’s me, a little sweaty stick figure icon wandering around and around the outer promontory. Stone carvings cut into, coaxed out of, grey blocks.  Figures representing worldly things, pleasures, desires.


Then I'm climbing




past the second level, emerging on the third: "The second plane of achievement in Buddhism," the guide tells me.


"Trespasser!" a carving accuses. Taking a break from teaching his disciples, Buddha looks out at me:  "I cannot teach you.  You are not really here.  You are only playing.  tourist."


Turning away, I wipe the equatorial sun from my eyes.  Shirt sticking to skin. I am melting under the Indonesian glare---from form to formlessness. Struggling with heat hampered fingers, I pull out my sunglasses and push them shakily onto my nose.  I will resist this Eastern penetration. "I will resist.  I will resist." I chant under my breath. Until: contemplating the distance between a melting point in Indonesia, and a wind chill in the Canadian artic, I muster the strength to move on.  & up.  Reaching the gates to Nirvana.  (no more carvings of happy listening ears.  no more bodies or re-presentations.) Worthy or not, I step thru. The last level of the jungle's temple pyramid. The top.


My guide tells me that if I can reach thru the lattice of a stone bell, if I can stretch enuff, if I manage to touch the sheltered Buddha statue, then I will access his protected countenance. & I will achieve the true enlightenment.  The true enlightement not of knowledge my life-long quest.  But of renunciation. 


...& I want to be skeptical.  "I am not from these jungles" I tell myself. "My ancestors did not die under the philosophical burden of this hewn stone."




--I don't remember how--

in deference maybe

or in a moment between panic and dare

(...renouncing hope, ambition, desire...)

I touched the Buddha


& my sunglasses are no longer a shield against the sun, but a mask.




we are taught that Sartre began the philosophy of existentialism.  Western arrogance.


being and nothingness


in Java Indonesia.  Where for the past five days, lost, half here, I have been nothing, remembered nothing, and now discovered their nothing...

                                                               ...and on and on..




en route: 

stepped rice fields

this is not a pastoral

surrounding tropical trees like living green fences shooting up out of irrigated plateaux.  man working one plane using two oxen and a wooden plough. 

straw hat under hot sun.  dark skin. 

"you take photo? --money.  cigarette."


there is a story here

gulali says:
so how do you like indonesia? :)
Posted on: Jul 17, 2007
clarity25 says:
Your writing is beautiful...
Posted on: Jul 16, 2007
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Man and ox working the fields. Thi…
Man and ox working the fields. Th…
Java jungle scene
Java jungle scene
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photo by: siscalustiawati