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Rachel's Adventures in Indonesia

I've run out of space for photos on this blog. So from now on you can find my photos here:

So I thought I'd see how this whole blogging thing works. Perhaps it's better than sending emails because you can choose when you read it and look at pics as well (and group emails are so last season). Enjoy, and leave a message if you like!

Diary Entries

Friday, 01 September 2006

Location: Solo, Indonesia

This will be my last entry here. I'm still in Solo and continuing to have gamelan lessons, attend rehearsals etc. On Monday I leave Solo, and fly to Jakarta then on to the UK. So thanks for reading, and for those of you in London, see you soon!

Monday, 28 August 2006

Location: Indonesia

I've used up all my space on the Flickr photo page now and as I'm coming back in a week or so I don't plan to upload any more photos. If you want to see any more you'll have to wait until I get back.

Since coming back to Solo I've been going to rehearsals and having gamelan lessons as before. One of my teachers, Mas Bambang, invited me to his house at the weekend, in Klaten, the area between Yogya and Solo. There was a special wayang called a ruwatan which is held during the day, followed by a normal wayang in the night, and Bambang was playing in both. The wayang ruwatan was held because a family had 2 girls and 1 boy, and by holding this ceremonial wayang they hoped for better luck in future. There are rules about what is good and bad e.g. all girls is ok, all boys is ok, but certain mixtures are not, and so they hold these ceremonies. The wayang itself was shorter than usual, about 4 hours. The family holding it were really pleased I was there (as the only foreigner) and took lots of photos with me. Because I was with my teacher I sat next to him amongst the gamelan and he told me bits of the story.

The gender player for both this wayang and the evening/night one was Bu Pringga, a well-known female gender player and also Banbag's aunt. At the evening wayang I was able to sit right near her and watch her play - it was amazing (traditional village women's gender playing style is quite rare now and very interesting to me).

The same dhalang and musicians did both wayangs, and although there were a few hours to sleep between the 2 performances, I was seriously impressed by their stamina.

It was also really nice to meet my teacher's family, and see his house (rebuilt after the earthquake and still loads of building work going on all around) and his gamelan which is in a large room/pendopo adjoining his house. Wouldn't it be cool to get up each morning and have a full gamelan in the next room?!

Tuesday, 22 August 2006

Location: Indonesia

I got back to Solo at 4.30am this morning. The bus was actually really good - much more luxurious than coaches in England (and it wasn't a tourist bus). The seats tipped back really far and had an adjustable footrest. We got a blanket and pillow, and food, and it was air-conditioned. But the roads are not particularly smooth and they don't have motorways here, so it's more bendy.So it's hard to sleep but you do get to see lots of places - it's not boring like an english motorway.

I'm uploading quite a lot of photos at the moment, well hopefully. So I'm going to write briefly about a few things I did in Bali (mainly so I don't forget the details). On the day before I left Ubud I bumped into a tourist guide (easily done...) who was looking for someone to take to a cremation ceremony. So I agreed to go as it sounded interesting. Unfortunately by the time we arrived the procession part of the ceremony had finished and so had the gamelan. There were hundreds of people dressed smartly in sarongs and sashes and kebayas for the women. People were milling around, eating and drinking, and bringing offerings. The towers that had been used to transport the bones were very colourfully decorated as were the ones burnt with the bones inside. Women brought offerings consisting of holy water, cloth and other things to each one and men put the offerings inside with the bones. (Sorry if this sounds like a crap description - I don't know the names for all these things!)

I was told that 28 people had died - this was a mass cremation. Often when people die they are buried in shallow graves until the family has enough money for a cremation ceremony. Children under 1 yr old are cremated separately in small clay pots, also with offerings. They are cremated by their close family. If a body hasn't been buried for long and is still a corpse then flammable liquid is pumped in to assist in the cremation process.

So suddenly all these exquisitely decorated structures containing the bones and offerings and stuffed with wood to burn are set on fire. The air was full of smoke and everyone watched them burn. It went on for ages, and I left. After they have burnt sufficiently the ashes are taken again by procession and scattered.

In Sanur one night I was taken out to a dangdut karaoke club. (Dangdut is a type of popular music in Indonesia) In typical SE Asian style it was completely dark inside. There weren't many people there but everyone sat on big sofas with coffee tables (in the dark), and sang karaoke still sitting down. It was quite interesting, and they also had Balinese and Javanese pop. At 1am the music changed abruptly to house music, and we left.

It's strange what you get used to in a place, without being aware of it. I really missed hearing the call to prayer while I was in Bali (apart from anything it's like a clock, always at the same times every day), and I really noticed the abundance of alcohol in Bali compared to Java. Seeing "wone and spirits" shops seemed quite shocking - it was weird. In Java sure you can get beer in tourist cafes and hotels, but Javanese people can only get alcohol if they know people in the area to get it from. Otherwise you can't get it. So if you go for a drink in the evening with a Javanese person it's likely to be a cup of tea in a warung. And the idea of drinking a lot (ie more than maybe 2 beers) just doesn't happen here. There is local wine which is quite nice, but even when Javanese people think they are drinking a lot, it's nothing by English standards! (I don't know if that says more about Javanese or English drinking habits!). I also really missed hearing Javanese language spoke when I was in Bali - after just starting to understand tiny bits it was frustrating to not be able to understand any more. So it's really nice to be back in Java!

Saturday, 19 August 2006

Location: Sanur, Bali, Indonesia

Today I came to Sanur. It has a nice beach, and seems really nice so far. There aren't too many people hassling tourists to buy stuff, and those that do are happy to chat in Indonesian, which is good for me. It seems more peaceful than Ubud - people come here to relax not to go on tours every day and shop excessively, like it seemed in Ubud. My hotel is ok, but best of all I have a TV in my room so I can watch telly in Indonesian which is really good practice. So it's beach and TV for the next few days before I go back to Java (by bus because all the planes are full - it's a national holiday for Independence Day).

Thursday, 17 August 2006

Location: Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

I'm still in Ubud. Yesterday morning I went to the Monkey Forest. It's a monkey sanctuary and there's a temple. The monkeys were really cute and the forest was lovely. Later on I went to look at various places near Ubud - rice terraces, a waterfall, Elephant Cave, some temples - the usual tourist sites. It was quite nice - the countryside is very pretty, and there is lots of wildlife - colourful birds, big butterflies and insects in all shapes and sizes.

I've also been going to see tourist performances of gamelan and dance. There are a number of performances to choose from each evening. Last night I went to see kecak, which was cool. But the performances are solely aimed at tourists so it's a bit weird. In Java the tourists performances I saw were pretty crap and I can't help thinking that I don't know enough about Balinese gamelan to have an opinion in the same way, but perhaps these performances are not so good as well. It's a shame I haven't been able to see any "real" gamelan here, but I think it would be necessary to spend longer here and also have more knowledge and understanding about the music and the culture in order to find an entry-point.

Today is Independence Day and earlier I saw the end of the ceremony. I think later there are more things happening.

Tuesday, 15 August 2006

Location: Indonesia

I arrived in Bali yesterday evening and came to Ubud. It's very different to Yogya/Solo. There are so many tourists, like every other person here is a foreigner, it's really weird. (And the Balinese people just speak english to you, it's a bit annoying) There are shops all over the town selling artwork, sculptures, clothes, jewellery etc for tourists, and people trying to sell you transport (taxi/motorbike/bike hire) everywhere. And there doesn't seem to be any local public transport, so you either have to walk or hire something.

I arrived here at 1am so today I have been just exploring a bit. Everything is very expensive compared to Java (including the internet which is also v slow, so I won't be uploading any more photos until I'm back in Java). The streets are not full of cheap food stalls and warungs, mainly tourist restaurants. But someone told me where there are warungs so I'm going there after this. I'm also trying to find music that isn't just for tourists...

On the up-side my hotel is lovely and reasonably priced. The room is huge - it's like an upstairs bungalow, and it has hot water (which was weird when I took a shower this morning!). The climate here is very different to Java - more humid, but less hot, and I was actually cold last night.

Saturday, 12 August 2006

Location: Solo, Indonesia

Still in Solo having many gamelan lessons. On Thurs night we went to a wayang which is performed every 35 days on Jumat Kliwon (Javanese calendar). It was interesting because the gender player was a woman - traditionally gender players were the wife or daughter or some female relative of the dhalang (puppeteer), but now it is unusual. Most gender players are men and for women dance and singing are more popular. It was very interesting for me to watch her playing style, which is different to men's style.

Probably heading to Bali on Monday to relax for a week and recover from all this learning. (Also loads of Germans are coming to stay at my hotel to do a meditation course (!) so there isn't room for me, but apparently they will actually be meditating twice a day at the hotel. so I think I would rather be in Bali!)

Tuesday, 08 August 2006

Location: Solo, Indonesia

I've run out of space for photos on this blog, so from now on, my photos will be here:

I'm still in Solo. I've been having lots of gamelan lessons - like averaging one a day (and sometimes 2 a day which is a bit knackering). I've been learning suling and gambang with Pak Prasad, and gender with 2 different teachers - Mas Bambang and Pak Kamso. And also doing a lot of practice to try to keep up! My teachers are all excellent, and it's really interesting to see the different playing styles. So I've been learning loads, but it's not v interesting unless you're a gamelan person so I won't go into detail here!

Apart from that I've been going to some gamelan rehearsals. Last week a bunch of us (foreigners who are studying karawitan here, or who live here, and a few of us short term visitors) went to a wedding near Wono Giri, about 2 hours drive from Solo. We set off at 7am. There was a klenengan (like a gamelan concert but quite informal compared to a western music concert) all day, with a lunch break, and we were allowed to sit right near the musicians. Some of the musicians are our teachers so we knew them. They played really heavy-duty pieces, and it was really amazing. The time passed really quickly. Then it was time for a short nap, but it was really hard to sleep! In the evening and all night from 8.30pm til 4.30am there was a wayang kulit. The dhalang, Ki Purbo Asmoro, is supposed to be one of the best in Java. It was so good. Even thought I understand relatively little of the Javanese language, it was really captivating. We were able to sit right in the gamelan amongst the musicians which is not normal. This meant we couldn't really get up and walk around - usually at a wayang people move around, come and go etc, but it was worth it to be so close to the action. It was amazing to see how it all works, from the music to the atmosphere, to the interactions amongst the musicians. The dhalang had recently completed a tour in the US and some of the people I went with had played on his tour. So many of his jokes were about my friends, and this made it easier to understand. Also Kitsie, who is American but has lived in Java for ages, passed notes to me and my friend Michelle to explain the story throughout the night. When the show ended we went back to Solo arriving at about 7am and then went to sleep.

I've also met several ethnomusicologists whose articles/books I've read and used in essays, so that's been cool to see what the actual people are like. For those of you who know who I'm talking about, I've met Andy Sutton, Sarah Weiss and Marc Perlman so far. They're here doing fieldwork or just playing gamelan.

Tuesday, 01 August 2006

Location: Solo, Indonesia

I arrived in Solo a couple of days ago after chilling out in Yogya for a day. It's only an hour's train journey.

Solo is very different to Yogya. I've met lots of people but nearly all of them are foreigners here, mainly from America and Germany. It's a complete contrast to Yogya where the people I met properly and got to know were pretty much all Indonesians. The people I've met here in Solo are gamelan types and there's loads of gamelan here (and it's all very halus [refined]). So I've been going to rehearsals (sometimes getting to play). Last night there was a klenengan, and I've been learning the suling, and I also have a gender lesson tomorrow. The place where I'm staying is full of Westerners learning gamelan. It's a bit weird really, and at the klenengan last night the small audience was almost all foreigners. It's also been a bit strange going out and about with other foreigners. They tend to ignore people when they talk to them (this is true in Yogya too), while I like to talk - it's good language practice and interesting conversation, and this was how I made friends in Yogya.

Apart from gamelan Solo seems a bit dull - it's much smaller and more peaceful than Yogya, and doesn't have that city buzz about it. But the gamelan is enough to keep me busy for a while.

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Recent Messages

From David Hand
Hi Rachel,
Thanks very much for the card, which has just arrived (14 days!). You clearly are having an interesting time. Huge number of words I don't understand.
From Rob
Hey Rachel,

just checked out the updated photo's section and thought I'd just pop in and say the Forest Stream shot is really nice. Can I nab it as a Desktop Background?

Oh yeah, and sounds like your having a great time - don't come home : P
Response: Good to hear from you. Please don't tempt me to stay longer!
From Sabine (germany)
Dear Rachel,
how are you?
Hope you doing well. Nice photos!!!
How is your javanese developing?
Kisses from Germany, Köln,
Response: Good to hear from you. I met someone from Germany called Betine who plays gamelan, and she says you phoned her once to ask about her group! Small world! My indonesian is ok but it's hard to practise here in Bali where it's full of tourists and everyone speaks english to me!
From Ian
I'll be there in the second week of September. Looking forward to the return. If I can actually get out of the country by then . . .

Tidak ada kamar di Cakra? Wah!
Response: Yeah there are loads of Germans coming to Cakra for a meditation thing...probably best to get away for a bit! I spoke to Prasad about you - remind me to give you his phone no.
From Ian
Helen said lots of nice things about Pak Prasad. When I come out there in September would like to have some lessons from him. Could you prepare him for this? Are you still at the Cakra?
Cheers dude.
Response: Ok I'll tell him. He is a good teacher and very helpful as well. When are you coming? Yes still at Cakra, leaving on Mon because they don't have any rooms, going to Bali so my brain can recover from all this learning, then probably returning to Solo for a few more lessons.
From Emily (sister not ap
Hello, hope you got my email and i am expecting one with equivalent information in return...! i'm temping at the moment and its very boring. someone genuinely said to me last time i worked here that shouldn't opera singers be fat cos they have more lungs. riiiight. and 3 eyes. everything sounds so interesting where u r, i'm very jealous, tho things here are going so suspiciously well that i'm awaiting death by crushing of falling cartoon piano. i can't believe u met someone who hasn't seen a white person, its completely amazing. its much more exciting than working here, although last time some geezer on happy sweets jumped off the building opposite. nice. there's a paragraph in ur blog which is v funny to me who knows no gamelan, about having no rebab and the kenong person doing something or other and bing bang booly! bemused. i'l stop now. btw, whats tempe?
Response: Go to a health food shop or ask M to get some - it's sometimes spelt tempeh.
From Grandpa

Yr blog gets better and better! Keep it up.

I did not realise that Javanese and Indonesian are not the same thing. Maybe Javanese is a dialect of Indonesian.

Much love

Response: Indonesian is a more recent language used as a way to give Indonesia as a whole an identity. Javanese is a much older language.
From Barney
Hey Rachel. Sounds like you're having fun, and it's nice to get news. It must have been strange meeting someone who's never met a white person.

> Perhaps it's better than sending
> emails because you can choose
> when you read it and look at pics
> as well

I can actually chose when I read my emails. And I think there might be some new technology coming out called multimedia email or something, that'll let you put pictures in regular email. I'm going to get it.

This is a bit of a strange blog. Most blogs let the vistors put comments underneath the articles. This one just lets us put random comments in the sidebar, with your responses under them. Seems like the wrong way round.
Response: Well I find it hard to ignore emails. I just chose this blog because my friends are using it - their blog made me think of doing one, otherwise I wouldn't have thought of it at all.
From Jane Rowan
Rachel, this is amazing - you sound like Pliny describing Vesuvius! Glad you are safe. Look forward to more news.
From Emily
Hello! Thought I'd say hi, it sounds like you're having an amazing time seeing lots of wonderful things! M is relaying most of your news to me so don't think I haven't posted cos I don't care! Well done with your flute pupil. xxxxxx
From Koong
I am glad to hear that you are safe. It's cool reading your diary and make me think of Thailand.
From Peter Allen
Yr blog fascinating! Yr mother phoned the other day to say she had had a txt from you to say that earthquake no problem. Merapi sounded interesting. I once went up an active volcano nr Bandung - spectacular.


From Heather
It's cool to read your blog, makes me feel like I'm in touch with you even though I haven't emailed for ages (as usual...sorry). I guess I'll bother you again with gossip from Belgium once you're back in London with a faster internet connection!

Watch out for earthquakes and stuff.

Love Heather

ps Sorry I didn't put the mattress away when I stayed at yours, I was still drunk when I woke up and nearly missed the train...
Response: Nice to hear from you!! I had forgotten about the mattress. I hope things are good in Belgium.
From Lizzie Allen
Am enjoying reading your blog and am very glad to know that you are safe. Was, of course, very interested to hear about the puppetry. Will keep reading as you travel.
love Lizzie, Simon, Naomi and Maddy xxxx
From Emily
Really glad to hear your safe.

Bloody hell Rachel, can you please stay safe - i've just been texting our friend in Russia who's now an illegal immigrant after getting nicked, our friend in the middle of a war in Palestine and now this!!!!!!...

Seriously, lots of love - Cornwall's very safe (hopefully) - also are you still checking regular emails???
Response: Ha, that's funny - those two, eh! Yes still checking regular emails. Good to hear from you. xx
From Ian
The tourist wayang are strange. See if you can get to one of the all night wayang performances. They are performed in a space at the back of the Kraton at some stage every month. It would be worth asking one of the locals about, if you have not done so already.
Response: Yeah many performances including these are not taking place at the moment because of the earthquake. When I went to the kraton they were cleaning the gamelan because it hadn't been played for ages, and hoping to start playing again next month.
From John Allen
Dear Rachel,

Relieved to hear that you survived earthquake and tsunami.

With love,
John, Catherine and Matthew
From Catherine ( Rachel's
Monday 17th July

Just in case anyone is checking this after seeing a news item - there has been an earthquake near or on Java but I have had a text from Rachel saying it is not near her and she is fine
From christine
Hi Rachel, What an exciting life you are having!
On your next trip let me know if you need an experienced nanny ( limited to girls)/mother (limited to boys)/nurse (what ever comes), to accompany you!
Wishing you a very happy and successful time.
( p.s we are expecting this week temperatures of 36 degrees C/F I can never remember which one is which but the hot one!!)
love Christine xx
Response: Wow, maybe it's hotter there than here!
From Grandpa Allen

Now got your blog on my "favourite pages".

Much love

From Emily
good to hear from you - glad all is going well - will be following your progress!
From Jane Rowan
Hello Rachel!What a good idea -- though it seems contrary that I don't contact you much when you are living in N London, but get in touch when you travel hudreds of miles. Your language skills sound very impressive - probably better than my Greek, which I practise sporadically and regret the lack of when we go to Crete.
I've just finished my last bit of school teaching - so good to be free of the tension! Can now think about how to improve things for myself next year.Have a few ideas.
I'm going to Denmark in just over a week - got 3 concerts with my chamber choir. Really looking forward to it. Then must paint the bathroom and other bits of the house , practise a bit, write some flute tunes for beginners ,until end of August when we go to Crete again.
Have a great time - will wait for the pictures! Love, Jane
From Fran & Peter
Hi Rachel
Happy to get your blog - our first one! How strange, we hear more from you in Indonesia than when you were in London. Look forward to seeing your photos and have a great trip. Love Fran & Peter.
From Ian
Beware Batik. Beware . . . (!)
Response: Yeah it's so funny - when they try to sell me it I just tell them about my long shopping list of musical instruments and change the subject like that - it seems to work.
From ruth

Glad you set one up.

I am bookmarking you now, so wil expect regualar postings!

Keep having a great time,

Ruth xxx