Unwilling Celebrities

We did a short day trip to Borobodur from Yogyakarta. It is the biggest Buddhist temple in the world. One thing we read said it is one of the Seven Wonders of the World, but in our opinions it didn’t really live up to the hype. It was pretty cool looking but the hassle factor was outrageous. Unfortunately for us we turned out to be the main attraction for scores of school children and their teachers, many of whom were from small villages in Java and had never seen a white person before. Saturdays are apparently peak times for school groups to visit so as soon as we stepped foot in the place there were hundreds, probably thousands of 7th and 8th graders fighting to get a picture with the only white people in the entire place. As we were walking by the temple on ground level there were literally shouts from the levels above, “Orang putih! Orang putih!” (literally meaning white person), and then a horde of tweens would descend upon us, literally chasing us around the complex at times. It was to the point of being overwhelming and I’m not sure why anybody would want to be famous. There would be a group of about 2 dozen kids jostling to get a picture with us at once. One new trend we couldn’t help but notice since arriving in Asia is the widespread use of selfie sticks. These silly devices, which Asians use quite unabashedly mount a camera on the end of a metal rod and enable one to take a selfie of themselves and other people standing around them from farther away than they would be able to reach with their arms. These children were obviously very fond of these instruments, as it seemed every child carried one.  If their selfie sticks weren’t long enough to capture us, them and all their friends in the picture they would each take turns taking pictures until everyone had one with the fascinating white people.  Every once in a while a teacher would come up to the chaotic gathering, which we mistakenly thought would bring a bit of order and salvation, but instead they would pose beside the kids for pictures with some strange hand signal. They had even devised some cruel assignment (from our point of view) giving each of the kids a yellow card which we were requested to fill out. It included our name, signature, and a score to rate each child’s English speaking capability. I must have filled out 3 dozen of them before getting rude and declining their requests.

It was bizarre, I’ve never come across anything like it in all my travels. The whole time the blazing tropical sun was beating down on our heads and we were thirsty and sweating bullets with no means of escape except to rudely ignore all these hopeful smiling children and their requests. I even started telling the mobs of kids badgering me, in no uncertain terms, that I had to have a shit and was rather hurriedly on my way to the bathroom. Emily and I started leapfrogging around the temple because we couldn’t get anywhere together due to the sheer volume of requests when we were together. If I got a moment to myself I would hurry away to look at something, then get caught up in another group of kids and Emily would make her way towards me whenever she got a chance. After an unpleasant hour or so like this in quite unsuccessful attempts to enjoy the temple we gave up and left back to Yogyakarta.

Pigging out in Yogyakarta

First thing in the morning we caught my first tuk-tuk (a motorized tricycle with enclosed seats for a couple passengers) to the Jakarta train station. There we had nasi goreng, the traditional staple dish of fried rice for breakfast. The accompanying coffee, like all coffee in Indonesia, was made like camp coffee at home with a sludge of grounds in the bottom. Surprisingly, the train arrived early and left the station right on time. We were in Eksekutif (did you sound it out slowly?) class, which was clean and comfortable and provided plenty of personal space. Leaving the sprawling mega-city of Jakarta the big windows were filled with countless numbers of skyscrapers, and tin-roofed slums lined the river in some places. Out of the city the land was flat and open, allowing for long-ranging views which were another oddity after spending time in Nepal. We rode past miles of flooded rice fields being worked by hand and some sugar cane fields. Eventually the landscape became more hilly and forested and we saw many coconut trees and banana plantations. Seven hours later we arrived in the much more pleasant city of Yogyakarta, and I sampled chicken hearts, my first “meat on a stick” sold at street vendors everywhere. As the food was so varied, delicious and cheap in Yogyakarta we got into a habit of partaking in second suppers, dining at various street vendors where we could sit at low tables on the ground. Some of our favourites included crab, fried chicken (complete with the head), stewed jackfruit and spicy fish sauce called sambal. We also found another J.Co close by, and it became apparent we wouldn’t appear as though we had hiked through the Himalayas with heavy backpacks for much longer.