Wild Young Minds: June 2016

Monday, June 27, 2016

Adventures in the East part 1: Jakarta & Yogyakarta

''Prepare yourself, Bente. A culture shock is ahead of you. Your first Asian city!'' Seriously? I mean, I've seen so many big cities already: New York, Paris, Tel Aviv, Los Angeles. It can't be that bad, right? Well, my friends were right. Soon as I left Soekarno Hatta International Airport in Jakarta, I felt overwhelmed by all the activity on the streets. The chaos, the smell, the dirt. And so many people still around at midnight. ''You start to wonder when Asians sleep, right?'', my Couchsurfing host Don said, ''they don't go to bed before midnight and they wake up super early too''. At that moment, I had no idea how they could still be alive. I'd been awake for almost 40 hours by then - somehow, I just cannot sleep in an airplane - and all I longed for was closing my eyes for more than a minute.

The day before, I'd left Amsterdam around 12.30 pm. Three weeks of solo travelling through Indonesia to come. I was looking forward to it a lot, but at the same time it all went so fast. It'd seemed just a couple of weeks ago that I left the States, and here I was again, with a full backpack on my back and my passport in my hand. Many people indeed asked me: ''You're leaving again? Where did you get all that money?'' True, my California adventure had cost me shitloads of money. On the other hand, I had been working many, many days over the last half year. Besides, travelling is the only thing I spend a lot of money on. I don't need fancy clothes, expensive jewellery and I've always lived in cheap rooms. Having said so, I don't have to find excuses to go travelling, of course. I just have to go. And considering the fact the daily life in Indonesia was gonna be pretty cheap - long live the rupiah - and my flight had only costed me 450 euros. How did that happen?

The answer is Xiamen Airlines. At first I thought it must be a super crappy airlines, comparable with Ryanair in Europe, but it turned out Xiamen was quite fancy. The stewardesses looked like porcelain dolls, we received lots of food and you could watch films and series. The reason our flight was pretty cheap, was probably that we had a 12 hour layover in Xiamen in between flights. I didn't mind, though. This would mean I would get a Chinese stamp in my passport and I got to explore a bit of China! When I was waiting for the passport check, I met Mees, a Dutch guy who's also from Brabant and who also lives in Amsterdam now, and he was doing the same route as I was: Java - Bali - Lombok. Let's explore China together! Whilst looking for money, we ran into two Dutch girls who were travelling to Kuala Lumpur and we all decided to share a cab to the center.
That sounded more easy than it actually was. I was mindblown - the people in Xiamen spoke very, very little English. Pronouncing words as ''center'', ''city'' or ''toilet'' led to confused looks on the Chinese faces. Of course, I didn't think they'd speak English as good as the Dutch do, but honestly, no basic English? Yes, no basic English. The taxi driver had to stop three times to ask people on the street if they knew what we meant by ''city center''. Finally, he found out, relaxed, starting making selfies with us and called all his friends. The Chinese Facebook was probably filled with pictures of these exotic looking Dutchies. Oh well.
We spent the rest of the day in the park, near the temples and in a restaurant. That proved to be a problem as well. How was I going to explain that I'm a vegetarian? I tried my best: ''veggies, no meat, no chicken'' (gestures included of course). Suddenly, I realized: ''tofu''. Yes, tofu! The Chinese understood this word and so I ate the spiciest tofu I've ever had.
Around 10.30 pm Mees and I arrived in Jakarta. Everyone had told me to be careful with taxi drivers, since they know you're a tourist and they're gonna take advantage of you. We instantly experienced this. The taxi driver that took me to my Couchsurfing host and Mees to his hostel, pretended to know where to take us, but of course he didn't. In the end, we had to drive miles back and pay for this too. I was so tired at that time, that I thought: fuck it, here's your money, please bring me to a bed. That bed turned out to be the most comfortable bed ever. I stayed with Don, my Couchsurfing host, and his family. They had a huge room for me with AC, my own bathroom and four big beds. I got to choose! That decision didn't take long, since I was exhausted and so I slept straightaway.

The next day, Mees and I dived into the busyness of Jakarta, walked around Bataviastad to see what's left of the Dutch influence, saw the Bank museum and went to the harbor. We asked for a tour in a boat and finally, a guy agreed with our prize. Of course, the boat broke immediately and we were stuck. Though we felt sorry for the guy, we decided to ask another guy whose boat did work and he took us around. Awesome! Another thing that broke that day was my new Indonesian simcard. Don had taken me to a small shop, where you could buy a simcard with 10 gb for about 7 euros. I used it, it worked, but then I tried to log in to my hotmail at a computer, but a confirmation sms was needed, so I put my old simcard in again and then, I couldn't get it out anymore. I tried and I tried and Mees tried and a random guy in another store tried, but it didn't work. That iPhone 4 is sending me more and more signals recently. Buy. A. New. Phone. 

The same night, we went for a cocktail in the Skye bar with Don. The view was amazing, but as always, better to see it in real life than on the pictures. And since my iPhone 4 is refusing to work properly, I didn't even try to take them. At the Skye bar, we took some photos with random Australian embassy staff and we met a retired Malaysian national football played called Zul. We promised him we'd join him for a night of clubbing in Amsterdam and called it a day.

On Saturday morning, Mees and I took our backpacks and went for one more walk around the city. Which also sounds more relaxed than it actually was. When we were exploring the national monument, groups of children came over to us and asked whether we wanted to take a photo with them. This literally happened about 20 times. I've experienced it a couple of times when people told me I look like Cara, but this was totally different. Walking around with people staring at you, with always one girl that is super shy and has to laugh and the dominant one who walks up to you and bluntly asks you for a photo. ''Of course!'' was always our answer, cause I loved to shine at all their Facebook and Instagram photos. Who doesn't?

That afternoon we walked to the train station, cause we'd booked a train to Yogyakarta. Was I sad to leave Jakarta? Not really, as everyone had already said, it's a dirty city, where you constantly hear the honking of cars. The traffic is insane, it took our uber driver an hour to bring us from place A to B, though the distance wasn't far at all. On the other hand, I didn't dislike Jakarta as much as most people seem to do. Every tourist avoids Jakarta, goes straight to the east, but I thought the lack of tourists had a charm to it. As I said, everyone thought we were special, the people were very friendly - many of them spoke some Dutch by the way - and it all seems a bit more authentical than the places in Bali, where tourists have almost taken over the villages.

But Yogyakarta was definitely better than Jakarta. Smaller, more culture and the atmosphere was a bit more hippielike. In Yogya, Mees rented a scooter, I sat on the back and we saw the water castle, the temple and two great, great places: the Prambanan temple and the Borobudur temple. The first one is an important Hindu temple and the second one is the biggest Buddhist temple in the world. Both were super mystical, especially the Borobudur, since we were there at sunrise and since I've always had a huge interest in Buddhism. The monument is a place for Buddhist pilgrimage. The pilgrims' journey begins at the base of the temple and follows a path around it, which goes to the top through 3 levels of Buddhist cosmology: the world of desire, the world of forms and the world of formlessness. Pilgrims that have travelled the path and arrive at the top, are believed to have attained Nirvana.

What I also found interesting about these temples, was that the guides that walk around are mostly Muslim. After all, Indonesia is the biggest Muslim country in the world. Our guide at the Prambanan was a muslim girl who was aspiring to study either in California or in Europe. She was so extremely ambitious, I was almost more interested in her study goals (''Shall I study French or German?'', she asked us. ''Spanish'', we answered) than in the Hindu symbols. But what I found most cool, was that the Muslim guides knew so much about the other religions, even though they're absolutely different. In Bali, I was to explore more about Hinduism. But first, a three-day trip to the Bromo and Ijen volcanoes. More about that in my next post, because I can understand you've read enough for now. And my eyes are tired too. See you soon!