The Emerald City

Bandung, the capital of Central Java, occupies a pre-historic volcanic crater.   Mountains flank this medium-sized city, the most notable being “Upside-down boat mountain” (guess why.)  Wednesday we headed to Bandung to meet Henry Manila, a national league Perkutut breeder and competitor.  Little did we know Henry would whisk us away to the mountains when we arrived, but more on that later. 

Jaya drove us  four hours from Jakarta to Bandung escorted by a rag-tag fugitive fleet of smoke-belching trucks.  One truck driven by a dark man with a handlebar mustache and batik cap sported hand-painted scimitars on the front bumper.   The highways are dangerous, not from swashbuckling truck pirates but drivers fatigued by morning prayer (the first prayer must be before sunrise or it doesn’t count. And the World Cup is on – at night – you get the idea.)  We passed three overturned trucks within on hour.  Jaya smiled, pointed at each one and said, “Sleepy.”

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As we climbed deeper into the mountains Jaya would pull over insisting I take some scenery shots.   The Dutch built the railroad bridges (or let’s say had them built) complete with an occasional train sidestep for pedestrians.  For that matter the Dutch built the 13,000-island Indonesia, conquering kingdoms and uniting them under the flag of occupation. 


Bandung was one such kingdom and was founded in the 9th century.  This is the home of the Sundanese people and it turned out Jaya is one of them.  After passing numerous signs for outlet shops we arrived in Bandung, “the Paris of Java”  and treated ourselves to a traditional Sundanese lunch:  seafood cakes grilled in banana leaves, tomato sambal, coconut encrusted fish, Sundanese gado-gado with prawn crackers and small free-range chicken. (Ayam jalan jalan or chicken walk walk.)






When you order fish the waiter grabs a net and catches it in the decorative fountain next to the parking lot.  The gado-gado is eaten by hand witha bent green bean (I did sneak my fork a few times.)

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After lunch I got my first barbershop haircut in 18 years. 



Dear Readers:

We have hit a busy schedule and internet has been harder to reach.  Great things happened yesterday and today.  We had massages and learned how to sew a Perkutut up for tuning from Master Kwan.  Tomorrow we will go to visit the general who runs the Xena Warrior Princess Bird Farm.  And then on to Solo for the big competition. 

More soon.


Filed under 1-9 The Emerald City

God cried

The joke goes like this: 

Ronald Reagan asked God how long it would take to fix America and God replied fifteen years.  Knowing he would be out of office, Reagan cried.

Margaret Thatcher asked God how long it would take to fix Britain.  God answered ten years.  Margaret Thatcher cried.

Susilo, the Indonesian president, asked God how long it would take to fix Indonesia.  God cried.

Tragic sounding to the West, Indonesians split their sides laughing when someone tells this joke.  With rampant poverty, massive overcrowding, mind-numbing traffic and increasing right-wing fundamentalism, Indonesia is not on the brink of a rebirth.  Several commented to Kian that they pine for the days of General Suharto, whose corrupt dictatorship ruled Indonesia from 1966 until 1998.  “Things worked more smoothly and money was easier,” one taksi driver reported. 

One thing that does not move smoothly is traffic.  With no real mass transit, the oppressive volume can cost drivers hours even if traveling only a few blocks.  Like chit-chat about the weather, traveling times are a staple of conversation. Kian’s high school friends traveled only a couple kilometers but spent nearly three hours crawling in traffic.  Mothers with babies will stand at the side of the road offering their presence in your car to comply with the mandatory three-person morning commute law.  Jockey 3-in-1, as they are known, will collect $1 and be deposited when you reach your destination. 


Despite the hard living, people seem remarkably cheerful.  Maybe in the face of hopelessness, when the Universe weeps for you, the only thing is to smile.


Our own slow commute yesterday took us back to the modest house of Chris, a bird farmer, competitor and creator of  the Info Perkutut website.  Nestled in a narrow alley, Chris’s birds hang next to the street and his bedroom curtains open to a view of the breeding cages.  Gunawan mentioned that Perkutut competition is an equal sport, all (men) can compete.  (Although he mentioned two women raising birds in Surabaya.)  While this may be true at some level, it clearly takes money to get the top champion birds.  Chris is not rich, but he is in the game.  He will compete two birds in Solo this weekend along with Gunawan and others.  We will be there.


Filming at Chris’s was a major sound challenge.  Every few minutes a motor bike would pass in the alley and street vendors were constant.  With patience, and the prompting of a Perkutut ringtone on Chris’s phone, the little birds obliged with some sweet cooing. 

The Perkutut voice has three parts – the lift, the body and the decline.  The syncopation of the coo during the body is what seems to count in competition.  A slow start is good, but a slow finish is better.  I will try to upload some video if I can make it to the hotel lobby’s strong wireless before we depart Jakarta for Bandung.    (this is not our video below – the connection is too slow…)


Kian stopped a street vendor today and we staged a scene.  The boy, named Tri, has a bike with a sewing machine mounted on it and goes door-to-door offering tailor services.  The scenario had Tri riding by calling, “Vermak, vermak” (alteration in Dutch) and Chris running out after him to get some shorts hemmed.  Tri knew his trade well – not a hack.  We then interviewed him about the experience in front of the camera and handed him the camera to ask us any questions.  (“Why would this interest you?”, “Are you married?”)




Off to pack now – Jaya will be coming soon to bring us to the farm of Henry Manila in Bandung (I saw a t-shirt declaring it the “Paris of Java”).  We will stay in a guest house he has there.  More soon.

Assorted Pics

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Chris’s daughter tries her hand at filming; Perkutut ID tag


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Chris’s family;  Tri interviewing us


Filed under 1-8 God Cried

Tonight’s Dinner

Quick picture post to show you tonight’s amazing dinner.  It is cuisine from the North Coast of the island of Sulawesi.  Very spicy and very delicious. We were treated by some of Kian’s friends from high school.   Crazy sambals, green mango, monster prawns, egg-stuffed squid, a sweet-sauce giant crab and fish grilled on banana leaves.  Wow.









The waiters watching the World Cup


Filed under 1-7 Tonight's Dinner

The Underdog

Gunawan explained to us that when he got into Perkutut competing he was ambitious and ridiculed.   But as he started picking up trophies the ridicule stopped and he became sought after as  a breeder.    He was given the nickname “MTG” which stands for “Maju Tak Gentar”  a battle cry during the fight for Indonesian independence from the Dutch after World War II.  It means “go forth without fear” and is now the name of his bird farm.


Gunawan said that he used to be an angry person until he fell prey to the dove’s soothing songs.  Now as head scheduler for the Javanese Perkutut organization and with a farm of over 100 birds he has lost his anger.  And it shows, Pak Gun cracks jokes all the time and his entourages love it. 

His generosity is immense,  Pak Gun has loaned Kian and me a driver  and SUV for a few days.  Jaiya, the driver, lost his job at Dunkin Donuts in the Asian economic meltdown of the 90’s.  He asked Pak Gun, his aunt’s neighbor, for a job and has driven for him ever since. 

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Yesterday Jaiya drove us to Taman Mini Indonesia Indah (Beautiful Indonesia Miniature Park)

Ostensibly, the park is a 250 acre monument to Indonesian culture and industry.  With pavilions like the “Gas and Oil Industry Museum”,  TMII tries to cover all bases. 


There is even religion-land, where a fantasy mosque rises next to the Haleluya Protestant Church and the Santa Katherina Catholic Center.  What I suppose was meant as a streamlined Singapore-styled declaration of Indonesian unity and progress has morphed into an almost post-apocalyptic series of independent villages.  Each has its own security, live-in caretakers and share of crumbling concrete.  The place is also very crowded.  We arrived at 7:15 on Sunday morning and we waited 45 minutes in traffic to get in. 


The park was founded by Tien Suharto, wife of the former dictator, and its populist mission endures.  The entrance fee is low and it is Indonesia’s number one domestic tourist attraction.  Oddly, except for the occasional glimpse of my reflection,  I saw no apparently non-Indonesians. 

We headed for the Bekisar center looking for the competition. The SUV parked in front and we found two guys hanging around inside the office.  “Oh,” one of them explained, “that was postponed until next week.”  The curator was happy to talk to us, but had to change his shirt first. 

Under a big screened in dome, with flapping decayed plastic on the top, lived these amazing roosters.  Green-jungle fowl – the old forest dwelling chickens – mixed with black roosters, white roosters, skinny-necked roosters and beyond. (You can tell I’m an expert.)

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The boy’s club turned strange when a bunch of roosters suddenly stormed a corner of the park.  I whipped my camera around to see some sort of scuffle behind a bush.  It all settled down in a few minutes and I went over to the spot. 

Lying in the corner was a dead hen.  I asked Kian if we should let the caretaker know about it.  He explained that saving face was an extremely important feature of Javanese culture and it would be supremely embarrassing to the caretaker.  We thanked him and left.

After a lunch next to a Muslim school end-of-year celebration (next to Transportation Land) we headed back into town.


Kian wanted to get a vaccination for typhoid and we found a clinic where he got it for $6 (I paid $100 in the U.S.).  While I was waiting I shot this video of one of many self-styled traffic cops.  They work for tips from passing cars.  Jaiya had given out a few when these guys flagged down many lanes of traffic to stop them so we could do a U-turn. 

Video here: 


I had to remind Kian it was my, ahem, birthday and we had a nice Gado-Gado in the mall.  Today we are off to visit Chris, another Perkutut breeder in South Jakarta.  More soon.


Street vendor at entrance in Taman Mini. 

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Caretaker hanging up laundry next to Mass Transit Monorail.  Inside the Monorail.


Filed under 1-6 The Underdog


Gunawan in the Bekasi competition site


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A Champion Dove from Thailand worth US$30,000


Surabaya, on Java’s east coast,  is said to have the best Perkutut trainers.  These cages are also made there at $500 a pop.


DSC00782 DSC00784 The ride back from Gunawan’s.  The eclectic mix of traffic surrounds you all the time.


Kian and Gunawan


Gunawan insisted on buying Kian and I batik shirts because we had presented him with a tie.   The sales clerks got a kick out of it. 



Filed under 1-5 Perkutut Pics


Negotiating the river of a thousand motorbikes, Gunawan’s driver took us past a wide, muddy irrigation ditch lined with tin-roofed huts. Across makeshift bamboo bridges we could see hundreds of small shops – motorbike garages, carved wooden door workshops and durian huts full of ropes of the hanging spiny fruit. We turned past a security gate into a protected enclave of small, well-cared for houses.

From the street we could already hear the dove songs mixed gently with the call to prayer and street vendors hawking their goods. The tropics seem to blur the lines between inside and out .    We entered an outdoor tiled courtyard with a row of men sitting and smoking. Propped on a couch in the corner sat their prince, Gunawan.

Looking something like a hybrid of Tiger Woods and Yoda, Gunawan  greeted us with a big smile and apology for his attire of sarong and sweatshirt.  He speaks some English which we learn he picked up in his business running oil tankers.  His smile is huge and he and Kian immediately start talking about Perkutut.  I bring out a camera and he says, “Wait, I need to change my dress.”  As he goes off we puruse the long row of ornate cages hanging in the courtyard.  A barefoot young man named Ardi moves constantly and quietly   around the cages, taking one down and polishing it, removing a dove and examing it, and squirting water into small bowls.

Gunawan has pieced together a remarkable complex in this gated eclave, of which he is district leader.  Now donning business slacks, a linen shirt and batik cap he directs us across the lane to his trophy room.  Kian had told me that certificates and trophies are big in Indonesia and I believe him.  Gunawan has only been in the business for 8 years and his room is packed with shiny statuettes.

We exit the room into a new courtyard filled with training and breeding cages.  Ardi follows closely behind us waiting for cues from Gunawan. 

Ah, dear readers, I must cut this short – it is 6:30 in the morning and another car is coming for us at 7.  Today we are going to the Bekisar competition held at an international theme park, akin to the one documented in Tamar Gordon’s “Global Villages”.  The bekisars,  singing roosters,  will compete in the park’s bird section.   More soon!


Filed under 1-4 Gunawan


After 36 straight hours of travel there is nothing like taking off your socks, spreading your toes and sighing.  Like the changing of the seaons or aging, air travel heralds change whether or not one is ready.  Stepping out of the Soekarno-Hatta airport we were hit with simultaneous walls of humidity,  jet lag and people.  Lots of people.  And lots of people on motorbikes.  Unbelievable numbers of them.

Kian’s wonderful friend Nelly was there to pick us up and we spent the day being ferried around Jakarta in air-conditioned comfort by her driver Nugroho.  How surreal to be behind tinted windows with gentle piano music playing as the tumult of city life played out around us – makeshift buses, street vendors pushing carts across four-lane highways, street kids sitting on the curb knocking each other around.

Well more posting later. Gunawan, our first bird farmer and an active member of the Perkutut associaton, is sending a driver to pick us up in twenty minutes and I need to put on new socks.

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Filed under 1-3 Touchdown

Perkutut poster


Filed under 1-2 Perkutut Poster

Tomorrow We Go

Months of planning and logistics come to a head on Wednesday as we take our bags of equipment and expectations and board Singapore Air for Indonesia.

The 30-hour flight will land us in Frankfurt, Singapore and Jakarta where, like exhausted drunken marshmallows, we will greet Kian’s college friend, Nelly. She has arranged a cell phone and reunion dinner of Kian’s friends. I plan to smile and nod a lot.

Our trek is a curious one. The day after we arrive we will be standing a large field of equally spaced 25′ poles. Hanging from each will be an ornamental cage housing a dove and the dreams of many a would-be singing dove champion.

I found some images on the web of bird farm business cards and competition posters. These are not what I imagined them to be and I am trying to ward off all expectation of what awaits us…

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Filed under 1-1 Tomorrow We Go