Pitch, Tone & Posturing in Yogya

Yes the music scene is hopping around Yogyakarta – the Kraton, the University area and on Malioboro street – but what I am intrigued with is the bird-singing contest I have just been told about down at the bird market.

All over Indonesia you see caged birds, homing pigeons and bird markets, but this centuries old custom has taken a new twist in the past 15 years as  owners pit their birds against others of the same species in local, regional and national bird-singing contests.  There are entry fees, prize money (no gambling for once), judges and a raucous crowd of spectators, owners and trainer vying for prestige, honour and of course the prizes.   More than a hobby, these competitions are beleived to be a $66.5m USD industry on the islands of Java and Bali alone, with top birds exchanging hands for tens of thousands of dollars.

This short video will give you just a little glimpse into one late afternoon contest at the new bird market in Yogya.  This was fun to film!  Oh, I forgot to mention that the judges also allocate points for fancy posturing while the birds are singing their hearts out.

For those who want just a tad more information – here is a list of the most common birds found in the competitions

Orange-headed thrush  (Zoothera citrina),  Long-tailed shrike (Lanius schach), White-rumped shama (Copsychus malabaricus), Oriental magpie (Robin C. saularis), Chestnut-cappped thrush (Zoothera interpres), Straw-headed bulbul (Pycnonotus zeylanicus), Canary (Serinus canarius), Lovebird (Agapomis spp), Greater green leafbird (Chloropsis sonnerati), Blue-winged leafbird (Chloropsis cochinchinensis), Hill-blue flyctcher (Cyornis banyumas).

There are now captive breeding programs for some of these birds, and for a great article on conservation issues and policy as it relates to bird-singing competitions see http://www.geog.ox.ac.uk/news/publications/pjepson-etal-oryx-2011.pdf.

Posted in Yogyakarta, Java, Indonesia | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

A Wall is a Blank Canvas: Street Art in Yogya

Yogya StreetArt

You won’t find any drab dabs of mismatched paint erasing tags and graffiti in Yogyakarta.

Street art and graffiti cover the walls of the city and on first impression, it would seem the local government endorses and encourages its citizens to express their political and social commentary in its rawest form.  Although street art appears to be illegal in Indonesia, Yogya is a city of contrasts with the oldest Javanese customs  and rituals sitting alongside the modern vibrancy that only a university town can offer.  There are more than 100 institutions of higher education in the greater metropolitan area including the Indonesian Institute of the Arts, the country’s renowned university in fine arts.  With this backdrop it is little wonder that the bare walls of this city have become an open canvas and an open air gallery.

Continue reading

If you want to delve a little further into the history and philosophy of street art in Yogya, I found this great article by art critic and consultant Michelle Chin who is now based in Singapore http://www.michellechin.net/writings/12.html.  And if this isn’t enough, there is something called the Indonesian Street Art Awards that is given out to a person, or organization who best documents this art form in Indonesia.  The photographs, video, essays and articles are compiled into a database that will be used for researching social commentary through time.  Wow!

Posted in Yogyakarta, Java, Indonesia | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Lemon, Honey and Galangal

Kadek’s Tea

There is nothing soothing or comforting about this glass of hot tea.  The first sensation is sweet and lemony but then the ginger assaults the back of your throat and an instant later your mouth is prickly with all your taste buds zinging.  I’m  back in Ubud and the competent  hands of Kadek who knows all the right words and local remedies to soothe you back to health.

My nose started tickling in Singapore (we were there trying, unsuccessfully, to get a 6 month visa for India), and I just thought the fine air-bourne pollution was making me sneeze.  Unfortunately that wasn’t the case and as we left Singapore and moved on to Yogyakarta in Java, I knew I had succumbed to  the dreaded cold.  Being sick and on the road brings up a wide range of feelings –  from wishing you were home with a soft pillow and plenty of good books and movies, to longing for a bowl of Mum’s chicken soup.

Yogyakarta (aka Yogya or Jogja) is the cultural and artistic center of Indonesia, boasts the Sultan’s Palace and Kraton, batik and shadow puppets, the Indonesian Institute of the Art (ISI), Borobudur and the rumbling Mt Merapi which seems to be on the verge of erupting again. As I explored the city with a very foggy head, Jorge took full advantage of Jogja and future posts will highlight what he discovered in this dynamic city of contrasts between the ancient and the very contemporary.

Back to Kadek and her cures.  The galangal is similar to fresh ginger but much, much more pungent.  After Kadek has scrubbed off the dirt she grates a large hunk (1″ x 2″) along with the skin into a bowl and adds a little hot water.  This is steeped for about 45 seconds, strained into a glass along with the juice of 1/4 lemon and a TBS honey.  Hot water is added to fill the glass.  The grated galangal can be used a second time but is allowed to steep a little longer (this explains why some glasses of this elixir were stronger than others). Within hours my hacking cough became a little softer and my fuzzy head a little clearer.

I’m ready to write some new posts, get out with the cameras again and oh yes, find out more about jamu -one of which just cured me!

Posted in Bali | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Tootling Around the Aceh Province

A Salt racker preparing the ground for a dousing with sea water. When the water evaporates, salt crystals are left behind.

Tootling around the Aceh Province from Lhok Nga to Banda Aceh and then over the mountains to Sigli, you begin to experience the wide diversity of landscapes and day to day bustle of the people.  Our mission in Sigli was to film the restoration of mangroves and aquaculture so we met up with an old colleague from the Environmental Research Lab at the University of Arizona in Tucson and the remarkable local people he has been working with for the past 6 years.  The short documentary is in the editing stage and we’ll be posting it shortly. But – you can’t travel around without talking about the food……

Continue reading

Foods in window display at Padang Restaurant

Masakan Padang, or Padang cuisine originates from the western Sumatran Minangkabau culture and here in Aceh the muslim, halal dietary laws dictate food preparation. Now this is all behind the scenes and doesn’t affect the delicious smells that waft from the small “warungs” and restaurants that line the streets. There are a couple of unique kinds of restaurants here – the Padang restaurant is easy to spot as it usually has a window-front displaying a great variety of dishes. A thin white curtain protects the food from flies and other critters and you either serve yourself (buffet style), or you point to what you want on your plate. In Lhok Nga, we ate at Dian’s Warung almost every night and here, Dian didn’t stand over you and write down what you were taking, it was more like the honor system where you told her what you had when you paid the bill. Such trust! Most of the time our bill, including drinks was 17000Rp-25000Rp- about $2 per person.

The other dining style is called “hidang” and this is where up to 25 different plates of food are placed in the center of the table and if there isn’t enough room, well the new plates are just balanced and stacked on top of each other.  Here you choose what you want to eat from the vast array in front of you and are only charged for the dishes you taste or eat.  They somehow know if you just dipped a spoon in for a taste!  The choices can be overwhelming – different curries (vegetable, fish heads and of course beef and chicken) but there is also Sop-Buntut (oxtail soup), Cumi (squid) and a personal favorite, Ayam Goreng (fried chicken).  Prawns, fried fish and cow brains are available and yellow and white rice always accompany the meal.  A bowl of water is usually set on the table for washing your hands as it is customary to eat without utensils, however, forks and spoons are given to us. Pure fruit juices of papaya, melon, lime, pineapple and alpokat – avocado juice flavored with a generous drizzle of chocolate (this is absolutely delicious but without the chocolate) are much better than water and I’m afraid we’ll be craving them when we come back to Arizona.

Returning from Sigli to Banda Aceh we were on the hunt for fresh durian fruit.  But first there seems to be a ritual.  We all stopped at a noodle warung where we had steaming bowls of  Mie Aceh Kuah, (spicy soupy noodles with chicken and vegetables) which I believe was suppose to prepare your stomach for the durian.  So, outside the mosque in one of the larger towns were heaping baskets of freshly picked durian fruit, men sat and squatted around the pile in earnest discussions.  They were tapping the fruit with their machetes to determine the ripeness, I presume, and when the pile of selected fruit grew in size the negotiations began.  Picking the perfect durian is like picking the perfect Christmas tree.  With 6 medium fruit in hand we went to a small nearby cafe and this is where we had the first taste of this intriguing and much maligned fruit. Imagining we were going to have to hold our noses to cut out the notorious smell, we were all surprised that there was only a faintly, musky fruit smell.  Unfortunately, after all this, the fruit itself wasn’t fully ripe, the texture a little crunchy and the flavor – I just can’t liken it to anything else – for some of us it was good, others I think will pass on trying it again. So the search continues for a really good, ripe durian.  We’ll be letting you know if it lives up to its reputation.

If you want to view the photos a little faster, just click on the current photo.

© Janvango. All rights reserved. 2011.

Posted in Aceh | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Aceh Province – 7 Years Later

 

Yuri always rises at dawn and heads to the beach to check out the surfing conditions.  He had felt the earthquake, but that was common on the island of Sumatra being so close to the ‘ring of fire’. But what he saw that Boxing Day, 2004 will forever haunt him;  the narrow beach was now a huge expanse of sand reaching far out into the bay and the immense wall of water he could see in the distance made him rush home to raise the alarm.  Nina was also up early and saw an island in the bay she never knew was there.  Fleeing on foot, on scooters and motorbikes some 400 people ( population:  7500) from the village of Lhok Nga reached higher ground where they watched a 35m wave flatten their homes and change their lives forever.  The height of the waves varied widely along the coast, but whatever the height, the power of a wall of water is one of the most destructive forces on earth.

There are so many stories and sorrows from this early morning disaster and yet, 7 years later, trees and vegetation thrive, traditional homes have been rebuilt, businesses are opening, major infrastructure projects have been completed and the tourists are coming back.  There are very few elders in the villages and almost all the children are under 6 years old.

  • Main Street in Lhok Nga.  With around 32 inches of rain per year, the area was quickly replanted and there doesn't seem to be much damage to the soils from the seawater.. Main Street in Lhok Nga. With around 32 inches of rain per year, the area was quickly replanted and there doesn't seem to be much damage to the soils from the seawater..
  • Map showing the damage to the northern part of Sumatra from the 2004 tsunami. Map showing the damage to the northern part of Sumatra from the 2004 tsunami.
  • Map of tsunami damage in the Aceh. Map of tsunami damage in the Aceh.
  • This electric generating ship was anchored in the harbour prior to the tsunami, but now it lies 5km inland!  It is being turned into a memorial and tourist attraction. This electric generating ship was anchored in the harbour prior to the tsunami, but now it lies 5km inland! It is being turned into a memorial and tourist attraction.
  • Almost none of these "aid" houses are used by the local people because they are too close together and don't take into account the extended families and businesses that share a common plot of land. Almost none of these "aid" houses are used by the local people because they are too close together and don't take into account the extended families and businesses that share a common plot of land.
  • Abandoned marketplaces, cookie cutter homes and other structures erected with foreign aid show the lack of communication between the needs of the local people and the missions of the NGOs. Abandoned marketplaces, cookie cutter homes and other structures erected with foreign aid show the lack of communication between the needs of the local people and the missions of the NGOs.
  • USAID packing material is used to cover some windows in a local house. USAID packing material is used to cover some windows in a local house.
  • Tsunami deposited boulder.  The building survived the waves although the doors and windows were blown out.  The great mystery was how this huge boulder got through the narrow doorway.... Tsunami deposited boulder. The building survived the waves although the doors and windows were blown out. The great mystery was how this huge boulder got through the narrow doorway....
  • This is all that remains of the bridge across the tidal river in Lhok Nga.  A new bridge has been constructed about 20m upstream. This is all that remains of the bridge across the tidal river in Lhok Nga. A new bridge has been constructed about 20m upstream.
  • Traditional Structure in Lhok Nga used by the fishermen in the village. Traditional Structure in Lhok Nga used by the fishermen in the village.
  • The Grand Mosque in the city of Banda Aceh was virtually undamaged. The Grand Mosque in the city of Banda Aceh was virtually undamaged.
  • Mami and her sister farm this small rice paddy just outside Lhok Nga.  The agricultural knowledge in the area was lost when many of the elders died in the tsunami. Mami and her sister farm this small rice paddy just outside Lhok Nga. The agricultural knowledge in the area was lost when many of the elders died in the tsunami.
  • The sunsets are spectacular over this beautiful sandy beach at Lhok Nga. The sunsets are spectacular over this beautiful sandy beach at Lhok Nga.

And, just yesterday, we heard the great news that a young 15 year old girl, swept away in the 2004 tsunami, had wandered back to her village and was reunited with her family…….

 

Posted in Aceh | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

We’re definitely not in Singapore – Hello Medan, Sumatra

A mosque in every neighbourhood

 

Singapore is always the soft landing in Asia.  It’s cleaner than clean and everyone speaks English so there is no need to twist your brain after travelling half way around the globe.  Not so Medan, Sumatra…….

Medan is the 4th largest city in Indonesia and with a population of over 4 million (almost all on mopeds)  and more than 10 languages heard on the street –  it would be easy to plug your ears and head back to Singapore – but where’s the adventure in that?  Walking the back streets we came across little ethnic neighbourhoods, kids playing games with popsicle sticks and bits of string, men loitering until they saw us and then they were posturing and poising for the camera.  It really didn’t matter that they would never see the photo, and I’m sure they never thought it would appear on a blog.

Continue reading

The call to prayer from the many neighbourhood mosques, as well as the Great Mosque, blasts through speakers but the dress code for the women is more lax than some other places on the island.  Most local Muslim women who venture outside do wear a hijab headscarf and dress modestly, however Medan is also a tourist mecca for the people from the Aceh provence in the north where sharia law is practiced. In a cafe off the main street an Aussie sea captain and his Aceh wife ( a former flight attendant) held court at one of the tables, drinking beer and telling stories.  She was beautiful with a loose flowing dress and her hair free and flowing with plumaria blossoms tucked behind her ear.  If she were caught like this in Aceh the ‘moral police’ would lop off her hair.  There’ll be more reflections on Aceh later. Interestingly, the local Medanese mock these visitors and call them hypocrites.

Talk to a Tourist – english homework

Late in the afternoon is when the high school kids flood the center of town hunting for a few foreigners so they can complete their homework assignment.  We were surrounded outside the Great Mosque and their task – to interview us in English.  Some of the older kids were pretty good but when we tried to talk to them about their favorite hangouts, sports, dancing, entertainment etc they had a hard time responding.  I’m sure lessons are in rote!  Photos of us, photos of them and when they leave they convulse into fits of giggles and non-stop laughter.

Getting out of Medan is as simple as going to the airport and buying a ticket for the next plane going your way – the only hitch is the Cash Only sign – scrambling to find a Bureau de Change or an ATM that gives more than $100USD [which is just under 1 million Indonesian rupiah (as in 1,000,000)]! With 1000 rupiah being just 10 cents you often find yourself haggling over a dime.  A little silly really!

Back to the airport – there is security (simple and kind), a departure tax, and one great big departure lounge for all flights.  Walking across the tarmac to the plane we feel like we’ve harkened back to another era. Oh yes and the flights have all been on time!

Enjoy the photos around Medan.  This city is definitely the gateway to elsewhere and in our case we’re heading to Aceh on the very northern tip of the island of Sumatra.

  • Just one of the many mosques Just one of the many mosques
  • Across the river Across the river
  • India section of Medan India section of Medan
  • Corner Corner
  • Monkey in a backstreet Monkey in a backstreet
  • Stunning ceiling Stunning ceiling
  • Another sign Another sign
  • Posing for a photo Posing for a photo
  • Doorway Doorway
  • Out from school Out from school
  • Domes of the main mosque Domes of the main mosque
  • Storage yard for playground equipment Storage yard for playground equipment

© janvango.  All rights reserved. 2011

Posted in Sumatra | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

Holiday elegance from Singapore

Singapore during the Christmas season is ablaze with lights, decorated trees in front of  all the department stores along Orchard Road, the famous Raffles Hotel (think Singapore sling) is quietly elegant and there is not the frenzy of sales and shopping that you are all too familiar with.  In the ethnic quarters, where the Malay, Indians, Chinese and Arabs live, the only sign of festivities is in the restaurants and shops frequented by foreigners.

Singapore is everything you have heard about and more. This place is bustling, with new skyscrapers going up  on every corner  and construction crews working in shifts around the clock – most of the workers appear to be from India or Bengal – I guess no different from the workers in Dubai – but I hope they are treated a little better.

We stayed in the Arab Quarter with the beautiful mosque anchoring the jumble of streets and small shops.  Of course the 4AM call to prayer stirred our sleep but at least it wasn’t blasted through loud speakers.  All manner of Persian, Turkish, Lebanese and Mediterranean food was on our doorstep but our best meal had to be the rice chicken which I think was prepared like Peking duck – a very popular local hangout and way off the tourist track. Love these little gems.

So many interesting people in the backstreets of Sing from the artists, boutique owners and the 3 men at the ‘honey’ store.  One spoonful of honey from Yemen (apparently the ‘best’ in the world) when you first wake up – and before that first cup of coffee – will cure all  your ills and keep you living well beyond 90!  We were dipping our little fingers into all sorts of honey jars while listening to parts of the Koran that foretold the magic of this elixir! We wanted to record and film but all three giggled and said no.  Maybe next time!

A few photos from our walks around Sing………..

© Janvango. All rights reserved. 2011.

Posted in Singapore | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

My Girls: the buzz on urban hives

Wow! I have finally finished this short piece on honey bees and I have to say it was so much fun, particularly working with the fabulous beekeeper Linda.  That being said, this has been a very, very long learning curve, especially the editing part.  Now that this first attempt is under my belt the next one should go a little faster.

I would love all comments, critiques and thoughts on this little film.  Hope you enjoy it and please share freely among all your family and friends.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment