Sprawling Indonesia, like Malaysia, is an artificial conglomerate of various ethnic groups of distinct cultures whose essential common feature is that of having been colonised by the Dutch. During W.W.II, the Dutch colonies were occupied by the Japanese who were seen as liberators by many. When Japan fell, Soekarno lost no time to form a government and to declare independence. British colonial troops from India that were landed to restore colonialism were replaced by Dutch troops and fighting went on until the Dutch finally recognised the Indonesian republic in 1959.
The fragile unity against colonialism hid powerful centrifugal forces of cultural, political and religious disparities. Several separatist movements, such as Darul Islam in west Java, the Ambon attempts of an independent Malaku and rebellions in Sumatra and northern Sulawesi were put down by the Soekarno government. Soekarno was a master at balancing the forces of the Indonesian Army on the right against those of the communist party on the left but there was eventually an attempted coup in 1965. It was thwarted by general Soeharto who blamed it on the communists and undertook to eliminate them by killing an estimated 250 000 people and arresting an equal number who were put in prison camps. Then, Soeharto set out to oust Soekarno which he did by stages until he became president in 1966.
In 1994, Soeharto had been ruling with an iron hand for almost thirty years. The country was stable and safe to visit but it had a bad reputation for corruption and human rights.
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From Melaka, I went back to Singapore to catch a flight bound for Denpasar, Bali's international airport. Here is the very touristic but nevertheless beautiful Kuta Beach.
The tourists are as colourful as the locals in Kuta's Jalan Legian (Legian Street) and there are more of them so the best thing to do is to think you came here to see the tourists and enjoy it. There are lots of charming villages around the island where you can go to see and meet the Balinese.
No wonder so many tourists come here, the island is beautiful, the people are friendly, the beaches are great and it's not expensive. I had a corner room with balcony in this odd building for only 16 dollars at the Arena Bungalows.
There are are also several expensive first-class hotels like the Kartika Plaza where I enjoyed a show of Balinese dancing presented during dinner.
On my way to Jakarta (and work), I just had to stop in Yogyokarta to see its huge Kraton (Royal Palace), built in 1755 and the two much older sites of Borobudur and Prambanan. Yogyokarta's main Avenue, Jalan Malioboro, changes its name to Jalan Yani near the Kraton in the south and to Jalan Mangkubuni and Jalan Sangali in the north.
An air conditioned room with pool cost me only 12 dollars a night at the Asia-Afrika Hotel near the train station.
I got to the Kraton too early and had to wait a while before they opened the gate. That's how I met this bunch of high school students who were also waiting. Naturally we had a lot questions to ask each other and they even tried to teach me some Bahasa Indonesia which I found rather simple and easy to learn. It would be worthwhile to learn it someday for there is so much to see in this huge and varied archipelago.
The open sided architecture of the Kraton's public halls was well-suited to the hot and humid climate of Java.
This is the stage of a wayang kulit (shadow puppet) theatre which is a characteristic Indonesian art. The puppet master, sitting behind the screen with a light source behind him, manipulates flat leather puppets to tell a story accompanied by traditional gamelan music. You can see several of these puppets on either side of screen. Their shadow profiles are well known by the audience for they represent specific characters from the Hindu Ramanaya and Mahabarata classics.
A gamelan orchestra can consist of only a few or of dozens of musicians working percussion instruments like this lady playing a set of of brass gongs. It produces a very distinctive music found only in Indonesia and parts of Malaysia.
The huge complex of ruined Hindu temples near Prambanan village, a dozen kms from Yogyokarta, bears witness to the glory of the Sanjayas dynasty that built it between the 8th and 10th centuries. The Sanjayas ruled the North from Old Mataram and coexisted with the Buddhist Sailendra dynasty that controlled the south and built the Borobudur Temple around the 9th century.
I did not see much of the temples because I was here only a few hours to attend one of the world famous representations of of the Ramanaya Ballet performed outdoors in the moonlight with a towering Hindu temple as backdrop. Very impressive!
Some 40 kms on the other side of Yogyokarta is the equally important Borobudur Buddhist temple that lay an abandoned and overgrown with jungle for centuries just like Prambanan after the Sanjaya and Sailendra dynasties united and moved to the eastern end of the island of Java.
The temple is built like a stepped pyramid with six galleries decorated with intricate bas relief sculptures inspired by a Buddhist doctrines and Javanese life of 1000 years ago.
The UN named it a World Heritage Monument and invested 21 million dollars to save it from destruction due to poor drainage causing it to slump.
Three more circular terraces on the top are adorned by these hollow stupas inside of which are statues of the Buddha in a variety of classical positions.
In my opinion, the Borobudur Temple is worth making a long detour to visit for it is a world class site along with the likes of Machu Picchu, Teotihuacan, Angkor Wat and the Pyramids.
I arrived in Jakarta a day early to convert psychologically from globetrotter to consultant. I put on my business suit with white shirt and tie and moved into the luxurious Mandarin Orient Hotel where a room had been reserved for me (235$US/night).
A consultant's work day in Jakarta it is the same as a New Delhi, Islamabad or anywhere else. It boils down to; taxi in the morning from the hotel to the office, lunch with colleagues then back to the office and taxi back to the hotel for an evening's work in comfortable rooms. I wont go into that here.
The work was intellectually challenging and it kept me busy all the time except for one Sunday that I took to visit Old Batavia where, in 1620, the Dutch installed the beachhead from which it would conquer the whole Indonesian archipelago.
I was surprised to learn that these beautiful wooden sailing ships still carry an important part of the freight and passengers between the innumerable islands of the Indonesian archipelago.
After Batavia I visited the interesting "Mini Indonesia" architectural museum that displays the traditional houses and handicrafts of the 27 provinces of Indonesia in a large 100 hectare park south of the city.
This style of house is from south Sumatra.
And so is this rice granary. The exhibits were very well presented. My only regret was not having enough time to visit leisurely.
These houses are from Sulawesi. I had to rush through but I consoled myself by thinking that I would certainly return to visit the various distinctive parts of the huge Indonesian archipelago.