Yesterday was Hari Waisak, the date around which my entire time in Java was arranged! What an experience. I am still trying to process it all!
Waisak is the main Buddhist holiday in Indonesia and commemorates three important events. They are the birth and death of Buddha as well as the date of enlightenment. Many Waisak signs yesterday included the word ‘tri’ as a result.
The day began at Mundut Temple, which as I’ve said, is very close to my homestay. This was brilliant, because it meant I could pop out and check how everything was going and also meant I didn’t have to queue to use the toilets which were private toilets let out to the public as an extra way to earn some money. The locals made excellent use of the many visitors and must have raised a lot of money over the last few days. Most close to the temple set up warungs selling all sorts of food and drink. They were run off their feet but in true Indonesian style, did not stress. I enjoyed a bowl of soto (thin soup with rice and veg) While sitting there, they ran out of rice! That should have been a major disaster where customers would give up waiting and find another warung (if it had happened in Australia maybe), however everyone just patiently waited! So lovely. No fanfare either when it was finally ready. The owner also had a young daughter underfoot but every one just moved around her! She eventually helped herself to the till and vanished with Rp1000!
Another interesting thing I witnessed while walking around seeing what was happening while waiting for the procession to start, involved a Buddhist follower and several bird sellers. The bird sellers had been there all morning and each had hundreds of tiny birds in a cage the size of an esky with no food or water. Some had been coloured with dye and looked hideous. The birds were starting to stress and this one guy visited each bird seller and paid them to release all their birds. He must have paid close to Rp1000,000 (AUD$100) in total to release them all. Most flew straight up into the large trees around the food sellers. Thankfully only one or two were caught by bystanders. One man was telling the youngsters not to catch them but he was totally ignored. Luckily the birds were too small and largely too quick. The few that were caught were so stressed I doubt they would have survived had they made it up into the trees anyway.
The procession was due to start at 1:30pm and I was totally surprised when it began 40 minutes early! It was like a huge parade just like a Christmas Parade with many groups represented. Leading was a marching band and then following that were huge carts carrying the most unusual offerings made from fruit and vegetables. The next vehicle in the parade carried monks who were throwing flower petals and flicking water (holy?) over the crowd. Quite refreshing actually as it was quite humid! After that were various Buddhist groups all wearing their own uniforms and some carrying banners. Towards the end of the parade came a barong group and another group shouldering a huge cardboard shaped shield covered in peacock feathers, both of whom were very entertaining. Whenever the parade stopped both groups would perform for the crowd. They were very good.
After all the groups had past by, I expected the crowd to join in behind and follow them to Borobudur however they didn’t. They all turned around and returned to Mundut. I felt quite odd being the only one following behind but as we moved along more started to join but nowhere near as many as I thought would. With the holdups along the way, I started to pass groups in the crowd which gave me an even better vantage point to take more photos! I eventually ended up catching up with the Buddhist groups.The older members were starting to flag. Some caught becaks to complete the journey while others were helped onto motorbikes driven by various walubi.
By the time we reached the road outside Borobudur the progress slowed right down because everyone had to form into 2 single lines and pass through a metal detector. At about this point, I was getting nervous because everyone around me had membership badges of some sort on their shirts. Thankfully no one said anything as I joined the queue looking like I belonged and I got through without a second glance. The first thing we all saw once clearing the metal detectors are 2 german shepherds with their handlers. It was very impressive and everyone gasped with wariness because it was so unexpected. However the dogs were as bored with proceedings as were their handlers. Think they were just there for show!
By this time it was 3:45pm and I was absolutely exhausted. I had only brought one bottle of water with me and had eked it out to last the walk. I sat down in the shade and gratefully ate some of the mints that Marg had given to me. They did the trick and I felt up to joining the throng heading to the steps leading up to Borobudur. What a contrast to yesterday! There were thousands of people and they just kept pouring up the stairs. I went up the first flight of steps and sat on the edge of the temple looking out over the amazing view and could see rain heading our way. I was very pleased that I had decided to pack my rain jacket. Then I looked down and realised there were hundreds of people taking photos of Borobudur. I felt uncomfortable sitting there with my 3/4 pants showing my lower leg, so moved away from the edge and sat at the back on a ledge.
As I was sitting there, I had a steady stream of people approach me to have their photo taken with me. I would ask them each where they’d come from. Most came from Java but one family came from Sulawesi! I also saw a Papuan family! All would ask the same questions: “Sendirian?” (Are you by yourself?) One group just started setting up around me and even opened their banner above me! I turned to the lady sitting next to me to ask where they were from and they were from Kalimantan! The ladies sitting next to me actually both came from the same place as Bu Arfa!! I asked them to also take a photo with my camera!
Then a lovely couple from West Java sat down and started chatting to me. Instead of taking a photo, saying terima kasih and then heading off, they continued to sit and chat which was absolutely lovely. Then they asked how I was planning to get home and when I said I’d walked and I guess I’d have to walk back, they invited me to join them for dinner and then offered to drive me home! He was also really keen for me to meet up with his niece because apparently she spoke very good English. Now, I have heard that claim by many a proud parent (in this case uncle) only to discover that their good English grades were for written English only, however in this case he was totally correct. Mala had the most amazing English I have ever heard from someone her age; 17 years. Her brother too was good and what makes his English so impressive is that his English comes largely from online gaming! Mala loves learning languages and is currently studying both English and French privately. Her English lessons are with native speakers and her current teacher focuses on speaking in class. Her fluency, grammar, vocabulary knowledge and comprehension were faultless. She could pass the IETS test with 100%!
After chatting with Mala and her brother for a while, it threatened to rain, so we headed to the gates so we could go and find somewhere to eat. However when we got to the gates, they were closed with an enormous amount of people on the other side waiting to get inside. They were only letting a small amount in at a time. Oom (the uncle) spoke to a policeman standing around about how we would get out and he explained that even tough the car was literally just across the road from where we were standing, the exit was actually 3km away. He then very kindly offered to drive us to the car! So we piled into his own private car and drove towards te exit and then around Magelang trying to get back to the entrance to Borobudur where their car was parked. Many roads had been blocked off because of the many pedestrians lining up to get into the Borobudur grounds so it took ages. At one point we sat in a line of cars all trying to get through, for an hour. To pass the time I chatted with Mala and her brother in English about all sorts of topics while Oom and Ibu chatted to the policeman who was Balinese (Singaraja) mainly about religion. Ibu & Oom are muslim whereas the policeman is Hindu. All 3 loved the opportunity to learn about each other’s religion. It was just lovely.
Eventually the policeman got out of the car and went up ahead to investigate what was holding up the traffic. He began getting cars to move out of the way so that we could move forward. We were all giggling to ourselves enjoying being with a policeman who had the power to do that. People would take one look at his uniform and quickly do exactly what he told them to do. In all, he had driven us for over an hour and a half in his own car to return us to our car! We hadn’t known him at all when we first jumped in his car but true to form, by the time we had reached our destination, both Oom and the policeman had discovered a mutual friend! I just love this about Indonesia! It is not 7 degrees of separation here it is always 1 or at most 2!!
We went to the closest warung where we ordered food from the very limited but typically Indonesian menu. I had nasi gudeg, the traditional dish of Yogjakarta and as always it was absolutely delicious. Gudeg is made with young jackfruit. As we were eating it began to pour however the waiting crowd outside did not move an inch. They continued to line up waiting to get inside. We debated whether to try and return to watch the lampions but all agreed it would more than likely be cancelled with the heavy rain. Apparently the lampions was what everyone was lining up to see. Mala showed me a picture of paper lanterns on her ipad to explain what they were. It looked absolutely beautiful. We then made a quick dash to the car and amazingly I was able to direct Oom back to the homestay. As we walked in the door, we came face to face with some of the Kalimanan Tengah group! We all had a laugh bumping into each other again! I couldn’t offer Oom or Ibu tea or coffee as the water dispenser was empty. Instead I opened a packet of Menz chocolates and shared then around! By this time it was close to 10pm and my brain was starting to shut down. I was very relieved when Oom stated that they would head off now and collect the older brother who was still at Borobudur and then drive him back to Jogjakarta where he is studying. They had driven 18 hours from Jakarta to be at Borobudur (via Jogja) and were now planning to redo it in reverse possibly straight away! Oom was very disappointed when everyone talked him out of inviting me to join them on their drive home! I was very grateful that I had plans in place and could politely decline! While it was incredibly generous of him to make the offer, I am really looking forward to exploring Jogja and may not get another opportunity to do so.
What an amazing day hey?
postscript: Apparently the ‘lampions’ did actually happen: at 2am after the rain had stopped!