Published in Now! Jakarta, November 2009

The new Suramadu bridge with suspension cables intact.

Last month I went back to Madura to shoot calendar pics for the Pesantren Al Amien, Sumenep—for their coming “Gentler Face of Islam” 2010 calendar. I survived the new SURAMADU bridge (the wily islanders have been stealing bolts off the support cables), and Pemekasan’s Sunday Market, only to succumb to Jungle Fever at the Asri Homestay, Gang 6, Pemekasan (amazing kopi jahé).
With the new bridge to the island one feels one is just going out of town, from Surabaya, rather than back a century or two as one used too, taking the ferry.
One wonders how long it will be before the inventible ‘elite’ satellite suburbs—with their two-toned, apricot-wash-coloured malls and rows of ‘semi-classical’ shop-houses—swamp the farmlands and fishing villages of idyllic Madura.
For the time being at least, East Madura—Pemekasan and Sumenep and surrounds—is still a fascinating detour from the delights of East Java.

9th September 2009: A pligrimage
I visit the Batu Ampar tomb outside Pemekasan and find, amongst the handsome tombs, a gathering of young Javanese Moslem pilgrims gently massaging their legs as they read verses from the Al Qoran.
I felt a great blast of tranquillity as I approached them, on my knees, rather like the ‘blast’ I felt when I found myself seated near the Dalai Lama on a plane once.

The quaint entrance ‘gapura’ to the Batu Ampar tombs outside Pemekasan, Madura: the little room above the gate holds the village’s holy Al Qoran.

A praying pilgrim at Batu Ampar.

The watchman at the Batu Ampar Mosque: the courtyards abound with doe-eyed mystics, beautifully groomed.

Souvenir from the Pemekasan Sunday Market.

•     •     •

Back in the Pemekasan I visit the new batik centre   where the region’s famous colourful batiks are for sale. One vendor is packing 200 green-ish batik safari jackets into boxes to be shipped to Jakarta for Ramadan.
I buy masses of kain batik lengths for the Balinese who adore anything that is both colourful and free.

10th September 2009: To ION Orchard, Singapore for an exhibition of Pintor Sirait’s F1– inspired sculpture organized by the Larasati auction house
I have watched my Batak buddy Pintor shooting bullets into plates of stainless steel for months now, and today I get to see his full metal maquettes—of racing helmets and F1 cars, all inscribed with Freudian wonder-words—displayed in all their glory in Singapore’s hippest atrium.
Miranda Gultom, former Governor of Bank Indonesia and Sumatra’s answer to Hilary Clinton, has graciously agreed to open the show. Just as she starts her speech a super-size Chinese shopper (18) an ultra micro-mini goes up the escalator adjacent to Miranda’s podium.
It is a Basic Instinct Batak moment.

Daniel Komala of Larasati Auction House, artist Pintor Sirait and Miranda Gultom behind one of Sirait’s F1 cars.

The crash helmet art at the Sirait sculpture exhibition, ION Orchard. Described as “more a way of life than shot-up skull caps” the helmets evoke spooky sentiments.

•     •     •

The Singapore Tourism Board has now asked Pintor to do a show based on gambling around the region for the opening of their new casinos.
Singapore is good the way it reaches out to regional artists for big events.

15th October 2009: A trip to Central Java
I have a new job near Candi Borobudur and I opt to stay at the friendly Hyatt Regency so I can watch the Ramayana poolside on Saturday night.
The hotel driver picks me up at the airport and on the way to Hyatt Regency Java asks me, rather archly, if I “Want to go anywhere.”
“Anywhere?” I reply, “Like The Putri Solo Massage Plus on Piggy Hill?”
“Maybe a quick snack on the way” he quickly qualifies, after my rude retort.
He leads us to ‘Pecel Solo’ a fabulous new warung chic eatery just near the main gates to the Hyatt.
Solonese maids tend a table of delicacies in the traditional Javanese entrance pavilion; here one can sit on the tree logs, if one wishes, and eat fried things while ogling the gorgeous waitresses. (Solonese women of course famous for their feminine charms and their way with a soup ladle) or one can eat properly seated in the big joglo pavilion at the back. One can even sit in the garden or even cross legged, on platforms.
The nasi liwet is memorable.
The décor is very atmospheric.
The staff are gorgeous and efficient.

The entrance pavilion cum food stall at PECEL SOLO, Jogyakarta. The restaurant is also a museum of Central Javanese folk art and architecture. The food is authentic too.

•     •     •

The next day I go to the village of Tanjung west of Candi Borobudur where I discover the most amazing political-commentary graffiti (see far right this page) in a security post. The graphic skills of Indonesian villagers always amaze me.
Someone should do a book on the artistic outpourings of the rural Javanese oppressed.

•     •     •

On the way home we call in at the Amanjiwa, designer Ed Tuttle’s masterpiece set in the hills south of Candi Borobudur. The restaurant is a gentle haven from the pressures of travel.
I am an old friend of the property, having stayed there many times over the years, and head straight for the annual staff party going strong in the nearby hall. There I discover the Dalemjiwo butler Miss ‘Peggy’ Widodo doing a fabulous parody of Inul, the famous Indonesian  dangdut singer with the pneumatic bottoms .
Viva Amanjiwo!!
Go Peggy!
This little bit of burlesque breaks the sanctity of the hallowed grounds. 

‘Peggy’ Widodo channels Inul the bottom wobbler at the Amanjiwo staff party.

 •     •     •

This month the 20th anniversary of the Amandari was celebrated in Bali—the Amanjiwo can’t be far behind.
Both are aging gracefully.

•     •     •

Right & Left: Graffiti inside a roadside security station, Tanjung Villlage, Candi Borobudur.

My last call of day is at the Mirota Gallery in Jalan Malioboro, the main drag of Jogyakarta. The main drag is named after the Duke of Marlborough during Sir Stamford Raffles’ time as Governor of Java.
Unlike the Pecel Solo, the Mirota Gallery has an all male staff in exotic versions of Central Javanese dress; most sport blonde streaks and hipster batik cummerbunds, and are noticeably light in their slop priya (Javanese slippers). It seems that ‘Miss’ Peggy may have hand-picked the floor stewards.
The gallery has a wealth of Javanese and colonial era souvenirs and handicrafts.


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