Tag Archives: Indonesia

Lunch with the Prince

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“Prabuku…, Prabukusumo…”

I was determined to get the full name of the prince right.  We were do to meet him at the palace in Jogja for lunch and I was preparing, “Pak Prabukusumo, saya senang jumpa”  (I am pleased to meet you.)

The prince had been a former perkutut competitor and we wanted his outlook on the sport.  He’s also a busy man – head of a regional political party and heavily involved in Muhammadiyah, a moderate Muslim organization that would start its 100 year anniversary in Jogja the next day.

“Prakubusumo” 

Kian groaned.   “Just call him Pak Prabu.   Otherwise, you are going to get it wrong.”

Before the trip Kian had called the palace who connected him to the prince’s house and staff there gave Kian the prince’s cell number.  They had chatted several times and he seemed quite affable.

“The prince is likely to be refined, right?”  Kian gave me a “duh” look.

“He is a prince.  He’ll be very refined.”

I wondered if he would have  a sense of humor if I got his name wrong.  Okay, mnemonics.  “Pra” is like “Prada”, “Bu” think of ghosts in the palace.  “Ku”  the soft coo of the doves and finish it off with Japanese wrestlers.  Right, truth telling ghosts who make doves sing as they watch two big guys pull at each others’ underwear. Got it.

Pradabukusumo”  Wait I don’t think there is a ‘d’.  “Prabu, right, Prabu.  There is a good prabubility I am going to screw it up.

Kian had been commenting that Indonesians always want to meet white people.  It seemed true.  At the Prambanan and Borobudur temples people would ask to take a picture with me.  Passing little kids in the street they often reach out to touch my arm.  Kian kept saying that my being white helps to open doors.  The general, for example,  had referred to us as “James and some Indonesian guy.” 

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We put on some nice batik shirts and got a taksi to the palace.  The complex is huge, taking many acres of the center of Jogjakarta and wrapping itself around old colonial fortress walls, giant magical Beringin trees with their masses of viney air roots and the palace village which in its meandering alleyways houses over 25,000 people.  We found the prince’s door and rang the bell.  A woman with shopping was walking toward us and unlatched the door to let us in.

We stepped inside and stood next to two black Mercedes parked next to a grand veranda enclosed in tall white-washed walls.  The prince stood at the back talking to a gardener and came to greet us.  We started to reach to take off our shoes and he waved at us.  “Really, no need,”  he said. “Welcome, please come in.”

“Terima kasih Prince,” I said.  I hadn’t gotten my phrase out, but I was prepared to use his full name at some point in our meeting.  We stepped up to the veranda with its expanses of white tile interrupted by little clusters of Victorian furniture.   I could see a strong resemblance between the prince and pictures of his father, the sultan who had sided with Sukarno during the fight for independence and earned Jogja “special territory” status.  Sri Sultan Hamengkubuwono IX had died in 1988 on a trip to Boston.  George Bush senior had his body flown back on Air Force Two.

We sat and chatted for several minutes and then the prince said, “Come, let’s go to the palace restaurant.”

The prince’s driver held the door of the Mercedes open for me and I sat in the back with the prince.   “So, Pak Pra-Bu-Ku-Su-Mo,” my intent to make small talk so I could slip in his name.

“That’s right, Prabukusumo.  I am very involved in politics but my favorite is philanthropy.  I really enjoy this.”  We drove a short distance down some narrow alleys and arrived at an outdoor restaurant.

“Here are all the favorite dishes of my father and the sultans before him.”

A table of businessmen stood quickly when they saw the prince.  He put his hands together and bowed gently to them as we were lead to our table. 

“My favorite is the beef tongue.  Would you like to order it?”

“Ah, prince, I don’t know if I am ready for beef tongue.”

“It is incredible.”

We began discussing perkutut and plates began arriving at the table.  (The prince’s food came very quickly.) 

“James please you must try the beef tongue.  Take one piece from my plate.”

Hmmm…I thought.  Guess I shouldn’t turn it down.  I took the plate from him and cut off just a little piece.  The prince gave me a quizzical look as I handed the plate back to him and now I wonder if I had passed it back with my left hand – a big no-no.  That’s the toilet hand.

The beef tongue was delicious.  It just tasted like incredibly tender beef.  Javanese ginger beer to wash it down, two kinds were brought, one chilled and one hot.  The hot one was a deep ruby red.

“Drink half of it and then squeeze in lime and it will turn the color of the other drink.  I ordered this for you.”

“Thank you Pak Prabu.”

He sat trying  to think of an ingredient in the drink.  He got up and a waitress returned with a stick of fresh cinnamon, still moist after picking. 

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We lunched on kassava medallions, marinated tempeh, beef ball soup with coconut and chicken with mixed peppers and tomatoes.  The rice was a blend of white and a special red rice from the region served with sauteed papaya leaves and a nut cracker.

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On the ride back to his house I tried to talk politics.  “ I read that the NU and Muhammadiya are rejecting calls for Sharia law in parts of the country.”  The prince gently rebuffed me, changing the subject.

“Yes, yes.  The palace was built in the 1750’s and my brother the sultan still lives here of course.”  Must be the tidbits of information he gave to all his visitors.

We arrived back at the house and set up for an interview.  As I gave him the wireless mike I said, “Prince Pruba…”

“Prabu,” he corrected.

“Oh, did I say Pruba?  I meant Prabu.”

“No problem.”

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We interviewed him for about an hour.  I said that a lot of Americans would be questioning the humanity of keeping birds in cages.  Without the sport, he countered, these birds would not exist.  “Should we release them into the wild?  They will be hunted or die in the jungle.  These birds are bred, they cannot survive on their own.  The sport creates many needed jobs too.”

The prince obviously loves the birds.  When he bathes them he sometimes holds the bird’s beak in his lips and kisses it.  He knows all the doves by the sound of the singing voice.

After the interview we got a tour of the house.  It is actually a series of houses separated by gardens full of tropical flowers, fruit trees and a full grown iguana.  In the last garden were the perkutut cages.  We went into a room loaded with trophies and evidently his wife’s overflow closet.

“So many trophies, what do I do with them?” the prince lamented.

“E-bay?” I said.

Kian shot me a glance. 

In the main house we looked on the wall of family portraits including Pak Prabu’s father, the sultan.  The prince explained that when his father died and Bush sent Air Force 2 with his body to Indonesia that Suharto, not wanting to be  upstaged by the Americans, sent a plane to Hawaii to intercept and take the body from there.  “This is something, right?”

The prince also wondered about Paul Wolfowitz.  Wolfowitz was ambassador to Indonesia for many years and is still revered here.  “He knew we were against the invasion of Iraq.  How could he support it?  I just don’t understand.”

After pictures and a warm handshake we said our goodbyes and the prince had our driver take us back to the hotel in the big black Mercedes. 

Assorted Pics

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A Night at the Javanese Opera

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The competition over, we had time to explore Solo.  Solo (Surakarta) had been its own kingdom like neighboring Jogjakarta. But the royal family didn’t back the Indonesian independence movement  in 1949 and their power ceased when Sukarno founded the new nation.  Jogjakarta, on the other hand, had been fiercely supportive and became a “special territory.”  The sultan is still the legal ruler, not a figurehead.  (In subsequent posts I will get to our lunch and visit with Prince Prabukusumo of Jogjakarta (the sultan’s brother) at the palace restaurant – amazing food and company.)

We strolled the wide avenues of Solo and wandered through a gate.  Two men were sipping tea and  Kian struck up a conversation. We learned we were speaking with the director of the Jawa (Java) Opera in Solo.  The other man was dressed in black and had long thick sideburns and a brooding regard.  He was Zambrot, the head actor of the troupe.  We were invited to film the famous Ramayana opera http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ramayana.  Java had once been Hindu and the Ramayana story still figures heavily in the cultural heritage and philosophy of the island.  Sections of the epic opera are performed almost every night throughout the year as a service of the government.  Admission, about 39 cents.

The day of the performance we went to the Sukho temple (one of the late Hindu temples in Java and almost completely tourist-free) with Duto Birdvit and our new driver Pak Joko.  Duto edits several online magazines about birds and generously offered to take us around for a couple of days.  At the temple a crew was shooting scenes from the Ramayana and we hung out with them for the afternoon.

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We arrived at the opera stage door at 6:30.  After plugging the small camera into the sound board, we went backstage.  Zambrot was there with a new haircut.  He said that attendance had dropped off when Suharto was thrown from power but was up again.  The roles changed every night and the actors didn’t know who they would be playing until forty-five minutes before the show.  Soon the director came into the dressing room and read out the assignments.  The actors made a beeline for the costume room and then back to get dressed.   It turned out that several of the performers at the temple were also in the play that night.  They were from a local arts high school and training for the Ramayana.  The boys paid slow and special care to wrapping and rewrapping their sarongs and dusting their bodies with powder.  One said, “Hello mister, I am very nervous to talk to you.”  I smiled and wished him “sukses.”

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(Backstage, Zambrot (also him at the top of the post), actors preparing, the gamelan orchestra pit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gamelan)

As is the case on many floors in Indonesia shoes are banned from the stage and wings.  Even the tech guys work barefoot.  The gamelan orchestra had begun to play (Javanese gamelan has singers, Balinese usually does not) and the warriors took position next to the king on stage.  One of the tech guys hoisted the rope for the main curtain and the show had begun.  DSC02837

You don’t need to understand the language to get the basic twist of the story. Sita is abducted by Ravana, the evil king, and there is lots of flashing lights, slapstick and even a section (I found out later) that is a comic comment on current events.  The movements are very deliberate and purposefully recall the two-dimensional movements of Javanese shadow puppets which were used to tell the story before the use of live actors.

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The house was about 1/10th full (no white people, sauf moi) and some of the people seem to routinely come to nap or for the air conditioning.  Kids running around = no problem.  Talking (loudly) = no problem.  And don’t expect applause – there isn’t any.  Members of the gamelan orchestra were taking little chit chat breaks in between their parts and others were texting.  All of this would normally make me a pissed-off audience member, but this is just the way it seems to work here.  And the actors didn’t seem to mind. 

Just for us (and a really nominal fee) the troupe had adjusted the performance to include scenes with Jatayu, the bird that dies trying to rescue Sita.  Not really sure how we will fit it into the final film but it seemed great footage to have.  The actor offered to stay after the show and I got on stage (barefoot) to shoot some scenes with him. 

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Zambrot came out to ask how he was (he was really, really good) and to tell us he was the head of a Christian church in his village.  Would we like to visit?  We were leaving Solo the next day so couldn’t.  But we think that this company might one day make another great focus for a documentary. 

More soon – stay tuned…

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Xena Warrior Princess and Lunch

I need to catch up on posts – so I will make this one mostly pictures.  Bowo turned out to be a great guy and accommodated us by keeping on his prayer clothes (he said he felt comfortable with the birds in his mosque gear) and placing a little camera in a cage to hoist up a pole.

The Xena Warrior Princess Bird Farm is the most lavish we have seen – even boasting its own competition field and reception rooms.  Bowo was incredibly gentle with the birds and clearly has a lot of love for them. 

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Fill ‘er up

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Reception room with portrait of the general

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Talking to Anwar – a Perkutut competition judge

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Me with Bowo in front of trophies and crazy horse painting

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Lunch

This was some Medan-style Padang food that Kian adores. Medan is where Kian grew up on the island of Sumatra

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Beef rendang, fried fish with chili, jackfruit with string bean curry, green chili sambal

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Boiled cassava leaves, jack fruit and string bean curry

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Cow skin crackers

We arrived at Henry’s at 6pm and began a harrowing 10 hour drive to Solo for our first Perkutut competition.  More on that next post.

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The General

(Dear Readers, If you are enjoying this blog, please send the link to other like minds.  Terima kasih,   Jim)

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At 4:17 am someone got the keys to the local mosque and hit the loudspeaker hard.  I stumbled in my sleep thinking it early for the call to prayer.  As I patted around the mattress for my earplugs (essential in Indonesia) a loud banging came at the door.  “Jim!”  It was Kian. “Get up we have to film the sunrise.”  I unlocked the door and Kian stood in full sound recording regalia – microphone, wind screen, digital recorder and XLR cables. 

“Come on, get dressed.” 

“Huh? Isn’t it too early?” I knew the sunrise didn’t come until 6.  Near the equator, Kian had said – sun up at 6, sun down at 6, all year long. 

“It is call to prayer – do you want to miss the sunrise over the mountain?  Meet me downstairs in five minutes.”

I peeled myself from the hot, sticky bed in my little student cell and fumbled for clothes and camera.  In the narrow corridors of the dorm some flip-flop clad youths were still hanging out from the night before.   I groaned, trying to keep my eyelids up.  Careful on the stairs, Jim.  This steep would never pass code in the U.S.

We went to the roof.  Complete darkness.  I persuaded Kian we could sleep for another hour-and-a-half and we each returned to our rooms.  At ten-to- six, with the next round of blaring prayer,  it was raining and we went down to the canteen for sarapan (breakfast).  We each downed a little plate of rice, prawn cracker and tempeh and Henry soon joined us. 

Henry spoke little English so Kian did the usual translating work.  “Bowo will pick you up at eight,” he said.  Bowo, the master Perkutut trainer for General Zainuri, pulled in on time in a well-worn Range Rover.  He shook our hands without a smile and began to speak to Henry about the competition in Surakarta in two days.  He invited us into the car and we were off to meet one of the former heads of the Indonesian army – now the president of the national Perkutut federation and founder of the Xena Warrior Princess Bird Farm.  Gunawan said it would be an insult for us to not meet with him.

After twenty minutes we drove into a perfectly-landscaped gated fantasy suburb.  Absent were the usual pedicabs, beggars, street vendors and homeless kids. Present were tall stone walls, preened shrubbery and even curbs.  Cloistered behind a wall of volcanic rock  was the general’s house.  An electric gate opened and we pulled in.  Bowo indicated we should remove our shoes and we were lead across a cool marble floor and up the stairs. 

Standing in a central courtyard garden was the general.  He came down the square slate steps and greeted us.  A houseboy brought us our shoes and we were invited to sit on an outdoor sofa.  The general settled into his seat, lit a cigarette and leaned back.  “James,” he said.  “I am pleased to meet you.”

Terima kasih pak,” I said. “You speak English?”

“Just a little.  I was sent to Oklahoma by my army in the 1980’s to study special operations.”

“Oh,” I said, a bit startled. “How did you like Oklahoma?”  (I mean, what does one say to a general of the former Suharto regime?)

Bowo brought out five fancy cages with Perkutut and distributed them around the garden for the general to enjoy.  Kian began explaining our documentary project and the general listened carefully.  Kian handed him a business card and the general asked a question.  Something seemed wrong.  Kian was looking nervous and talking faster.  The general sat quietly and observed him.  I heard the words, “art” and “hobby” and from the general, “National Geographic”.   Kian took a letter from Branda Miller, one of my professors and guru at RPI and placed it on the table in front of the general.  He put on his reading glasses and held the letter up.

“Everything okay?” I asked. 

“He asked if we have a license to film,” Kian said under his breathe.

“Oh.”  We didn’t.

The general got up and went inside.  A few minutes later the houseboy brought us cups of sugary tea.  “Okay, I think it’s okay,” Kian said.

We interviewed the general for about an hour during which staff and family passed gently and barefoot through the garden.  The general’s wife descended the garden steps deliberately and gracefully in a long batik house dress.  We stood and greeted her as she glided past.

“General,” I asked.  “Your bird farm is named after an American television show. Why?”

He looked me sternly in the eye and a smile came across his face.  The smile broke into a hearty laugh.  As was our routine he turned to Kian to answer the question in Indonesian.  “I am very fond of this show.  And I find Xena very beautiful.”  He paused for a moment. “Do you think I could be sued?”

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After the interview the general brought out his photo albums from Oklahoma and his trip to Washington DC and brought us some local bananas (they are better, folks.)

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It was Friday and the noontime call to prayer had begun.  We knew Bowo needed to pray and Kian urged me to say our thank you’s.  The general lead us out past huge portraits of his family and a real stuffed Sumatran tiger.  We were out the door and on our way to the Xena Warrior Princess Bird Farm – which I will cover in the next post.

Assorted Pics

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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.

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The waiters watching the World Cup

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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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