The first time I was in Yogyakarta (aka Jogja), I was struck by how friendly people were. People exchanged genuine smiles with me on the street, and when I went to restaurants alone, the waiters would often sit with me and chat. This visit is slightly different because it’s Ramadan, but the friendliness is still there!
Yesterday I walked from my lodging (a really lovely room for under $20 a night on Airbnb) to the house I’ve rented for my Women’s Adventure tour. I wanted to see it in person and make sure I understood where it’s located, so I can rebuild my mental map of the city around this location.
The house exceeded all my expectations so much that I wanted to shout out “HOLY SHIT are you for REAL?!” Can’t wait to receive my guests here and see their joy.
It’s lovelier in person than it in the photos, and the house is HUGE. The whole place costs less than renting one room in a Holiday Inn in the US, so split between the five of us, I can deliver a lot of luxury for my guests at a really good price.
After visiting the house, I headed toward Pwarirotaman, the backpacker’s street, to find some food (during Ramadan, the tourist areas are the best place to look for food during the day). But the house is inside the palace walls, and finding my way out was tricky. I’d been wandering quite a while in the heat when a man on a motorcycle offered me some help. With beautiful trilled r’s — “Go to the cornrrrrr” — he gave me directions and, to my surprise, wasn’t trying to sell me a ride. He just wanted to help.
By the time I got to Prawirotaman, I had walked for over an hour total. I was sweaty, smelly, thirsty, and starving. The street was almost completely deserted, and only a few restaurants were open.
I stumbled into a place called Via Via and had a truly delicious shrimp dish in sambal.
Sambal is a staple in Southeast Asian cuisine, especially in Java. It’s a chili sauce that can be quite spicy, and also has a hint of fishy flavor from shrimp paste. Shrimp paste, if you’re not familiar, is a fermented condiment so pungent that even a spoonful of it will smell up your whole kitchen if you don’t seal it in an airtight container. That fishiness takes a little getting used to, but I love it on seafood dishes.
After lunch I wandered Prawirotaman Street, poking into shops and enjoying the Javanese arts. A wood carver in Bali told me that most of the furnishings, carvings, and antiques in Bali come from Java, and are 1/3 the price here. Good to know!
I peered into a cafe called PlayOn, where I saw two staff members and no customers. A young waiter sitting on a swing inside motioned excitedly for me to come in. “Come in, have a drink, have some food!” He made me smile, so I came in for some coffee.
The waiter’s name was Sandy (sp?) and he was exactly the kind of friendly character I remember meeting in Jogja before. In fact, I couldn’t bring my laptop and work in cafes here, because as soon as the waitstaff see that I’m alone, they want to sit with me and chat.
When I first met Sandy, I didn’t expect him to be well-read or educated about the world. Looking back, I realize that’s because Sandy is a young man who is missing most of his front teeth. That kind of classist assumption about people is something I’ve come to expect from my American brain. I’m ashamed of it, and I appreciate having it thoroughly challenged by people like Sandy.
Sandy’s dream is to visit Machu Picchu, so he asked me a lot about Peru and about American politics, and in return he taught me things about Indonesia that I didn’t know.
There are 17,000 islands in this country. Seventeen THOUSAND. Hundreds of languages are spoken, and the religious population is very diverse as well.
Indonesia is the most populous Muslim country in the world, but about 20% of the population are Christians, and Bali is mostly Hindu. The Buddhists here are mostly within the Chinese minority.
The population has indigenous roots as well as Indian, Chinese, and Pacific Islanders. The Dutch rule lasted 350 years. All these ethnicities and religions live side by side in peace here — and we think America is some sort of unique melting pot. Ha!
Sandy had questions about America. Here’s what he wanted to know:
- Is it true your government takes care of the children until they are 18? (well, we do offer free education, so kind of?)
- Is it true they pay for your health insurance, like Germany? (boy this gets complicated to answer, with employer options, Medicare, Medicaid, and all the current controversies!)
- He couldn’t believe I don’t like my president. It made him laugh and laugh when he would say “Trump” and I would roll my eyes. Or maybe he just got a big kick out of the fact that I feel free to SAY that I don’t like my president right out loud.
Sandy wants me to come back and talk to him more. This kind of friendliness is so common & easy here in Jogja. I love that about this place.
So, if you were curious what happened with my journal from the last post, we spent some quality time together. I forced myself to focus and write things out until I thought I was done, then I took a deep breath and forced myself to write three more pages after that. No stopping, no thinking, just write. It’s my favorite journaling technique, and always brings me life-changing insight.
This time was no different. I found the answers I’m looking for, and now I know exactly what this memoir is about and where I need to go with it. I really appreciate my writing teacher giving me such great feedback, even though it was hard to hear. She was completely right, and I’m working on a better book now because of it.