A Travellerspoint blog

This blog is published chronologically. Go straight to the most recent post.

Departure and arrival

overcast 26 °C

Tired, exhausted, mentally drained, the journey has been long, from Manchester to Doha and Doha to Jakarta (with a considerable wait in between). On the first plane, from Manchester to Doha, my attempts to sleep were crushed by a fat, drunk Englishman sat directly behind me who insisted beyond all reason on bellowing Oasis lyrics at the top of his voice. This ordeal lasted for several hours. All attempts to calm the man down were in vain as he insisted on ignoring the pleas and lamentations of both the crowd and the staff. It was an awful experience, worsened by the mediocre food, only improved by the consumption of several whiskies over ice. The second journey was the better experience. Upon offering my boarding pass to the staff in Doha, they told me I had received an involuntary upgrade to business class. This consisted of a chair which literally transformed into a bed at the push of a button, a constant supply of freshly squeezed juices (I passed on the champagne), and a widescreen TV boot with films, TV series, documentaries, games, and so on. I was even offered a pair of pyjamas and a blanket for the nights sleep. For breakfast I was served croissants instead of toast, dragonfruit and kiwi instead of apple and banana, and Singapore style noodles with King Prawns instead of cereal. Now, I am no bourgeoise but when a weak man, weary with travel, is offered food and bed he accepts the offer. And so I accepted...

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Upon arriving in Jakarta the city was beginning to descend into night. I was picked up at the airport and driven to my hotel by a private car hired by the school I'm working for. Upon arrival, I immediately dumped my belongings into my room and set upon the streets of Jakarta in search of some food. Fortunately, it was not long before I found a seafood restaurant, rife with fresh produce.

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In the end, however, I settled for a mixed seafood nasi goreng and kangking cah terasi. It was a wise choice:

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Unfortunately, dear friends and dear family, for now I have little else to say. The city was dark when we drove through it so I couldn't see much. The traffic was terrible, there are lots (and I mean lots) of young people driving motorcycles. According to my colleague who picked me up, this is because motorcycles cost around £12 a month to hire. Anyway, I am tired and so I must sleep. I will report back tomorrow when I have experienced more of the place. Goodnight.

Posted by dabey 07:44 Archived in Indonesia Comments (1)

Lunacy and joy, fear and pleasure. Happy birthday for me!

semi-overcast 25 °C

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I have never been this overwhelmed before. Not even in the most wretched of states. It all began with breakfast. Can you imagine my delight, my absolute delight, at a breakfast consisting of the most wonderfully flavoured soup (lemongrass, chilli, lime, etc), a plate of noodles, assorted dumplings, prawn crackers, sambal, tropical fruits, and “some other mad shit?” Can you imagine my delight? Ignore the women, I'm here for the food. And to be perfectly honest, the food is beginning to annoy me. This is primarily because I am full, totally stuffed, and yet I want more. Four meals down, four more to go, that's my motto. And yet I can't possibly eat more. But I must! I am sick of it!

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Anyway, after breakfast I was picked up by my school's academic coordinator, who took me to the school to show me around. The school is located above a shopping mall, a foul place at best. Not twenty four hours in the East and I am already being attacked by the usual suspects.

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Disgusted at this sight, I quickly decided to devour some more food in the hope that it would cheer me up. I picked up this badboy at a fruit stall! The last time I ravished one of these was in Kenya many years ago. Can there be a cooler looking fruit?

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After loitering around the mall for an hour or so I headed back to the school, whereby I was introduced to two delightful maids of Indonesian descent. Things suddenly became interesting. These two, I was told, were to take me to various apartments throughout Jakarta and show me the ropes. One of the girls has also put me in touch with an NGO called Sahabatanak, an organisation which helps educate impoverished children in some of Jakarta's poorest areas. You can check out their website here: http://www.sahabatanak.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1&Itemid=3&lang=en

After discoursing with these two for a while, the older of the two (I forget her name) suggested we eat. I agreed, and so she took us to a local waroong, whereby I was able to sample one of her favourite dishes (it was some kind of vegetable broth with sambal and ribs).

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After I filled my inwards once more, the older girl asked me what type of apartment I was looking for. “Most of the expats live in this place or that place” (I can't remember the names for “this place or that place”). “I am not most expats,” I replied. I made it clear to her that I do not intend to associate myself with most expats, that looking upon an Englishman in these lands is a great offence to my eyes, and that nothing is more revolting to my ears than the sound of the American or Australian accents on Indonesian soil. “If I wanted to share an apartment with expats I would have stayed in England.” She seemed to understand this and took me to some apartments largely inhabited by the locals. These are much cheaper but do not offer gym facilities, a swimming pool, swipe-card security and some other such nonsense. Also, the rooms are smaller and less clean, the furniture is questionable, and no doubt I will have some trouble with cockroaches. Oh well, my neighbours will be Indonesians and lets face it, when you're living in Indonesia, that's all that matters!

Upon returning to the school it was suggested that I take a taxi back to the hotel. I agreed, then left, but seriously! WHY WOULD ANYBODY BOTHER TAKING A TAXI WHEN THESE RUDEBOYS ARE KNOCKIN' ABOUT!?

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They are called Bajaj, which must certianly translate to “three-wheeled death pit” or something. After experiencing a ride in them I can safely say that I will definitely be utilising them again, although under no circumstances would I recommend their use to a friend. Not once, not twice, but thrice did I fear for my life.

My birthdays are usually mental affairs but this one has been mental in a completely different way. Jakarta is a mad place. In the future, I can picture myself loving and despising it in abundant measures, but for now I'm just trying to adjust to something almost beyond reason.

Anyway, its still my birthday so I'm off to grab some food. Farewell for now x

Posted by dabey 07:32 Archived in Indonesia Comments (3)

Jakarta is a mad place

overcast 25 °C

If you're lucky, you might be able to cross a road in Jakarta in a good 15-20 minutes (although, admittedly, the locals are much more skilled at doing this than myself), but all too often a simple task such as crossing the road proves to be a profound impossibility. Either way, when crossing the road proves this difficult, you know you're in a mad, mad place. In fact, Jakarta is so mad that most people have long since ruled out the possibility of walking from A to B, and the only option in getting from A to B is either driving to B yourself or taking some kind of public transportation. In itself, this can also prove problematic, for traffic jams are a constant pain. At just $20 a month, it is almost tempting to rent a Ojek (a motorcycle). Everybody else seems to do this, but I am not everybody else. I would die.

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Since I last wrote, as you can imagine, I have devoured much food. I have also moved from the hotel into my new flat, a cool little place, recently refurbished. I decided to stick with my instincts and move into a residence largely occupied by locals. I have yet to see one Westerner in the complex; in fact, rumour has it that I am the only one. As much as this pleases me, not speaking a common tongue with my fellows can also prove difficult as the vast majority of people here in Jakarta speak little English; and for the most part, those who do speak English tend to frequent those shopping malls and bars indistinguishable from those same establishments in Manchester or London, and I have endeavoured to resist these vile establishments with all heart and soul. Just the other day (November 3rd), for example, I took to the streets of Jakarta alone and in search of something to fix both hunger in my stomach and desire in the tongue. I then stumbled upon a waroong, whereby ordering a dish proved extremely difficult. In the end, however, the fellow operating the waroong brought me fish (I had no intention of eating fish) and the matter was settled.

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Upon ravishing the fish, I then chanced to hear the sound of music from a distance. It was a kind of Arab/Middle-East/Disco-thing (I show my ignorance here), and I followed the sounds with haste. Upon finding the source of the music, I then proceeded to enter the establishment. It was built from wood, a kind of shack, overlooking a lake in Gading Nias, North Jakarta. Earlier on in the evening I had been warned about walking the streets in these parts during the night, and so not surprisingly I was the only Westerner present. This is a tragic shame. I have since discovered that the genre of music is called dangdut, and it is extremely popular in Indonesia. The occasion involves a person singing ala karoake, only the microphone is passed more frequently. Unable to speak Bahasa, naturally I passed when offered the microphone, yet my presence in these parts had obviously aroused the attention of the locals. I proceeded to the bar and was soon confronted by a number of fellows, all of them smiling and amiable. They gestured for me to sit and sup with them; they implored me to engage them in dance and offered me cigarrettes, to which I obliged, and before long I had made a number of friends, each of us brothers and sisters despite the distinct and obvious lack of communication. We did not understand each other, but within the moment we loved each other, and it is with great pride that today I call these fellows my friends:

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It was a terrific experience, one which the rulebook or manual to "staying safe in Jakarta" would have seen me deprived. At no point did I feel threatened, at no point did I feel unsafe; in fact, since arriving in Jakarta, never before have I felt such warm ejaculations of pleasure as those experienced from the passing crowd, who offer nothing but smiles and the occasional "Hello Mister." Admittedly, it is a peculiarity at first to be constantly looked upon by each and every passing crowd, yet I am already growing accustomed to it. The saddest aspect of being here lies in my inability to properly communicate with the people, and learning Bahasa has now become a priority.

Another thing I deem viable of discoursing upon are the variety of toilets which I have perused. Admittedly, thus far I have only perused three different types of toilet, yet each day I am on the search for more. There is the standard toilet which we are all acquainted with, to which I will spend no more time discussing. Yet in the shack/bar place previously discussed, I also became acquanted with this contraption:

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This, of course, requires the individual to squat. The image below is the sink.

This, on the other hand, is a toilet typical of our own. However, unlike those toilets which usually occupy our establisments in England, this toilet lacks toilet roll. Instead, the individual must utilise the contraption I hold in my hand, which is practically a shower. Of the two toilets, there can be no doubt that this method is by far the most difficult, and it was with much distress that I was eventually able to succeed in my endeavour.

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Anyway, enough of toilets!

This evening I was out exploring the city when I stumbled upon this establishment.

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With deep curiosity and interest, I immediately entered the place and set upon the menu. Now, as mentioned previously, I can neither read or understand Bahasa Indonesian. However, with the aid of my dictionary plus some input from the waitress, I soon discovered that the pictures of Cobra, Turtle, Bat, Lizard, Hare, and Monkey were all represented on the menu, and then some. The establishment also serves a variety of Rat, not to mention Crocodile and Komodo Dragon, and specialises in a wide selection of Snake dishes. In particular, I soon discovered that many of the locals utilise such establishments so that they might sup Snakesblood, which apparently has a number of qualities beneficial to the human body and mind. Now, at the risk of causing offence, I can safely say that the discovery of this place has by far and away been my greatest discovery yet, and I will certainly be frequenting the place again in the not-too-distant-future. To this moment, I feel dread at the consumption of Monkey, and I understand Turtles and Komodo Dragons are endangered species (although I could be wrong), so I refuse to eat them. However, the prospect of devouring a Rat or a Bat fills me with carnal anticipation and delight. As it were, I ordered myself King Cobra Kebab (sate) and Crocodile Soup. I was then offered the opportunity to explore the premises, whereby I was introduced to a variety of snakes:

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Returning to my table, I was naturally excited at the prospect of this new culinary adventure. I was not disappointed. First of all I was offered the Cobra, which was cooked in such a fashion that at times I genuinely thought I was close to orgasm. There cannot be a greater meat, at least when it is cooked like this. I refuse to describe it in more detail, other than if you enjoy food you must get yourself to Jakarta and sample this ludicrously delicious treat. I doubt I will eat it again unless I must. I have a great respect for snakes, but I am certainly glad I tried it.

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As for the crocodile soup, it was salty and served with seaweed. The meat was chewy and genuinely delicious. The taste was not overpowering and kind of like fish, only meatier. In fact, it is a meatier version of monkfish, if you know what I mean!

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So, in all my first week in Jakarta has been exciting and physically fulfilling, at least in terms of the food! Work begins on Monday however, and if anything is going to spoil a party its gotta be work. But still, I am excited about starting my new job and hopefully it'll be fun! The people who work there all seem to enjoy it and everybody seems pleasant enough, especially the students! Anyway, I am off to bed! Its 03:08 am here and a man must sleep! Farewell for now and much love to both my friends and family. I love you all! x

Posted by dabey 11:39 Archived in Indonesia Comments (2)

A Day in Singapore

overcast 26 °C

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I left Jakarta for Singapore at about 2:40 am in the morning. My mission? To locate a certain fellow wearing sunglasses and a suit, hand him my passport and a significant number of coins, then wait for this mysterious fellow to conduct his business so that I might procure my 12 month work permit for my stay in Indonesia. The mission was suspicious at best. Why must I travel to Singapore, for example, and meet a random man on the streets? Why not the local post office in Jakarta? I was told that he would be waiting for me outside a certain Mcdonalds. What madness was this? And yet the flight was paid for and approximately 300 American crowns were placed in my pocket. I was going to Singapore. I was not going to complain, and so I found myself arriving there at around 7am with a mission to accomplish and a day to kill.

Upon arriving in Singapore and first leaving the airport, I was immediately shook with an overwhelming feeling of inexpressible dread. Everything is so perfect. I know nothing and care little about cars, yet the taxi which picked me up was immaculate, some kind of Bentley or BMW or whatever. Driving to the aforementioned Mcdonalds, one could only gaze in awe at the pristine condition of the place. The cleanliness is absolute; the super modern architecture is matched only by the quality and functionality of the roads; the roads are secondary only to the underground system, which makes a mockery of its cousin in London at every turn. Even the trees are cut to perfection.

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I left the taxi believing I had landed in some kind of sick Utopian fantasy, a feeling which strengthened has the day progressed. In Central Singapore, every wall is covered with some nefarious advertisement, every person is on their way to the mall, every individual is fashionable. I looked about me not without a degree of loathing. This is Singapore? I thought. It is a giant shopping mall, the worst of Jakarta. Everything sickened me, yet it was not long before I became engaged in conversation with a fellow from England. He, too, had come from Jakarta to procure his visa. I told him my feelings. He laughed. "I'm glad you agree." He then told me that he ran his own business in Jakarta and had to visit Singapore at least once a month. It was a Police State, he said, a place without creed or character. There was little here other than the food, which was fantastic, he claimed. He, too, endeavoured to complain about Singapore's perfection. "It is like a giant shopping mall, a Jakartan shopping mall," I said. He agreed and we found each others company amiable, and before long we had discovered ourself a den, whereby we supped.

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Can a place which sells Tiger beer on draft truly be that bad, I thought? Long have I supped Tiger beer in the West, yet never on draft. This new discovery had therefore brought me much happiness, and it was not long before I had drowned my sorrows in several pints. This brought me much joy, and it was with great elation that I left the establishment. "So, what is there to see in Singapore?" I asked my friend. "Little India is probably the only place in Singapore with real character." I pondered these words, then hastily bid my friend farewell. "I must travel there." We exchanged numbers. "Farewell for now!"

Singapore is a small place, extremely small. In fact, my friend told me that it is smaller than Manchester. By utilising the underground system, one can easily travel from A to B with little effort, and so it was not long before I found myself in Little India. This place is a peculiarity, a colourful and vibrant place, a refreshing change from the dreaded centre.

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I was extremely glad to be away from the horrors of the centre and I explored the various streets, shops and bazaars with considerable excitement. Before long I stumbled upon a small yet aesthetically pleasing Hindu temple. I looked upon the structure for a while and then, not being satisfied enough, endeavoured to enter the establishment. This required me to remove my shoes, which I did. Inside, a variety of rituals were being performed, many people were praying, alms were being offered. I took a seat and watched the spectacle from a distance. It must be noted that this was not a tourist attraction. These were ordinary people going about their business, and seeing such a ceremony was a new experience for myself.

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Upon leaving the temple, I had to make my way back to the centre. As already mentioned, due to the efficiency of the underground system, this is a simple enough task. However, in Singapore, efficiency comes at a price.

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For those who do not know, the Durian is a popular fruit in this part of the world. However, unlike most fruits, the Durian has a strong scent which clearly upsets the perfect subjects of Singapore. Upon perceiving this sign, I once again felt disgusted, and desired nothing more than to breathe the foul and filthy air of polluted but honest Jakarta. Every time I speak to an Indonesian about this matter, they look upon me with bewilderment and surprise when I utter the words: "I prefer Jakarta to Singapore." Certainly, I can see why this should come as a surprise. Take this morning for example, when I ravished a bowl of Sato Ayam for my breakfast beside an open sewer, rife with the stench of human and rodent faeces. This cannot be found in Singapore. It would upset the locals too much and it would certainly upset the authorities. Without a doubt, it would also upset all of those ugly expatriates, who infest the tall corporate towers like cancer and aids, thinking they are experiencing Asia or the South Pacificic or whatever, when really they are only experiencing the comforts of home but multipled. I can see why Singapore is so popular with expatriates. I suppose it is Asia in Virtual Reality, a taste of the Orient without the drudgeries of the developing world (even the name "Little India" sounds like it belongs to a theme park). Not that I can comment on the individual experience in the developing world. I too am an expatriate. In Jakarta I live a life far more comfortable than the vast majority of its population. This cannot be denied. However, neither can the visibility of inequality, realised most forcefully in the gated communities which reside next to and sometimes within Jakarta's deprived communities. Also, for me, the failing roads and the polluted skies; the overpopulation and rising inequality; the struggle of the mass to get by: these are all a stark reminder of the planet we live on, a planet the urban theorist Mike Davis (in reference to Jakarta) has termed the Planet of Slums. When I finally returned to Jakarta, it was with a sigh of relief. It was good to be stuck in traffic once again! It was good to be home!

Posted by dabey 08:10 Archived in Singapore Comments (0)

Glodok

sunny 32 °C

Just because I haven't updated my blog for a while does not mean I haven't been exploring, writing, taking pictures, meeting fellows, and more than anything, both enjoying and appreciating my experience. This entry is from a while back, and there are more posts and pictures to come which will fill yawl in on my adventure! So, here goes!

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On the 12th of May, 1998, approximately 10,000 students held a sit in protest at Trisakti University, Grogol, West Jakarta. The protests were the product of rising unemployment, increasing privatisation, government corruption, and economic crisis. The protesters intentionion was to head for Parliament, but the crowd was blocked by police. In the ensuing conflict, four students were executed. This was the explosion to a social and political situation which had been growing in intensity for some time. The next day, mass riots broke out throughout Jakarta. Malls were torched, shops looted, over 1500 people were reportedly killed. Before long, the anger of the ordinary Indonesian man was directed towards the Indo-Chinese minority. This resulted in Indo-Chinese businesses and homes being targeted, not to mention the targeting of Indo-Chinese women, many of which were the victims of brutal gang-rapes, some by as many as 12-15 men (some figures put the number of rapes at the 400-500 mark). Since the riots, there has been widespread reports of police and military involvment in the rapes. Nobody has been prosecuted.

When I travelled to Glodok some five weeks ago or so, I was completely unaware that it was one of the main towns affected by the riots. As one of Jakarta's China towns, Glodok is quite a curiosity, for there are no symbols or characters which are immediately identifiable as Chinese. In fact, the China town in Manchester looks far more Chinese than Glodok, if you know what I mean. Alas, it was with great curiosity that I made my way to Glodok, which is in the north of Jakarta. In theory, Glodok is about 30 minutes from my abode. I say in theory for the traffic in Jakarta can easily transform a 30 minute drive into a days adventure, and traffic jams are one of the great daily enemy's of the city's residents. When I question a local about Jakarta, when I ask them: “Friend, brother, sister, bringer of peace, whoever you might be, what make you of your city?” it is indeed the traffic, along with pollution or government corruption or rising inequality and the subsequent increase in crime, which stands head and shoulders above all other complaints my fellows might have.

Yet alas, this day the traffic was on my side, and it took me little over 30 minutes to make it to the town of Glodok. At this point it was approximately 2 in the afternoon, and upon stepping from my taksi and bidding the driver adieu, one could instantly feel the afternoon heat with all its wrath. This was not helped by the fact that the sun had managed to pierce Jakarta's usually grey and clouded skies, and so it was with great haste that I sought some shade. This naturally led me away from the main road (thank god) and down one of Jakarta's many side-streets.

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I had come to Glodok on the recommendation from a friend. I had said to this friend: “It is with a great yearning that I desire the flesh of a cockroach, or else the blood of some other beetle, a locust perhaps, or the head of a rat. Is there anywhere in Jakarta that I might find such food?” My friend seemed delighted with both my idea and my ideal, and she recommended that I head to the “Chinese market in Glodok,” where, she said, all creatures great and small were offered in abundance. I was overjoyed at this news, and so exploring the many side-streets and alleyways of Glodok caused me a great excitement and sexual furore.

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It was not long before I discovered the market, or at least a market, which sold all manner of goods; trinkets and foodstuffs, dvds, cds, clothes, even pornography, which is banned in Indonesia, were sold here in abundance.

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Being a Chinese town in Jakarta, it was not long before I stuffed my face with a selection of dumplings, and it was here that I tasted by far and away the single greatest dumpling ever known to mankind. It was Shui Mai, only unlike those poor representations of Shui Mai in England, this dumpling was the size of a man's fist, with a taste unrivalled by any dumpling tasted before. Of course, this is Jakarta, and the unrivalled taste of the dumpling was intermixed with the stench of open, rotting sewers, a sensual overdose which takes much getting used to yet offers much in the way of intensity.

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After filling my stomach, I once again explored the market with its many aisles and stalls. I had come with a single objective: to feast on those creatures which can only be described as cretinous; that is, I had come with the aim of biting cockroaches in two, grinding locusts between my teeth, sucking the blood and gunge from oversized beetle larvae, eating maggots and worms and spiders and foetuses. As to whatever else might come my way, be it the flesh of a dog or the brains of a cat, I told myself: “let it come!” And so it was a great disappointment that I was unable to find any of the treats thus mentioned. I had been searching for just over two hours, and the afternoon heat had tired both my body and my soul. I continued my search, yet began to feel hopeless. I needed a guide, yet I had only myself. I asked for directions, yet my Bahasa Indonesia was poor. Then, suddenly, amidst the hopelessness of my predicament, I found this.

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It was a cage rife with many birds; some kind of sparrows, perhaps, and the sight filled with me with an insatiable hunger. I spoke thus to my fellow: “Saya minta itu” (I'll have that). The fellow looked at me with confusion, then uttered some words which were beyond my level of comprehension. “Saya minta itu,” I repeated. “Apakah lama memasaknya?” (does it take long to prepare?). The fellow appeared even more confused and uttered some more words. I managed to catch the words “temple,” and he motioned towards an open doorway. It was thus that I stumbled upon this treat.

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Marvelling at this sight, I thought it peculiar that a Buddhist temple of this sort should be tucked away behind a series of run-down backstreets in a shady part of town. Also, it was not long before I discovered the true function for the birds. As you can see in the picture above, a young child is kneeling down, seemingly studying a plastic box. It was not long before the child opened the box, and out flew dozens of birds, released from the manacles which previously bound them. This sight pleased me, and I endeavoured to explore the temple more. Inside, many people were praying, and a brilliant score was playing. The music added an unreal, dreamlike quality to the place. I decided to sit and enjoy the moment, watching proceedings from a distance. Throughout my endeavour, I collected a number of pictures.

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Under President Suharto, expressions of Chinese culture were banned. This included music, art, language, traditional festivals, and religion. It is for this reason that, even today, Glodok has little in the way of cultural expression, and the town feels more like Salford than it does Chengdu. Stumbling upon the temple pictured above was therefore incredibly exciting and also surreal! At one point, I was staring into the abyss, symbolised by the open sewer. In the next moment, I was gazing upon some peculiar temple. Do you know what I mean?

If not, then I apologise. I am not at my best this morning. I feel ill. But anyway! Farewell for now, my friends! Keep tuned for more tings!

Posted by dabey 21:24 Comments (3)

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