(Published in the NOW! Jakarta Magazine, August 2012)



Airopolis with a heart: Singapore’s Changi Airport security now turning a blind eye to student sleepovers.

Goa, India - Jakarta

Having grown up in Australia I am a huge fan of colonial architecture. During the 1970s my first decade in South East Asia, I was lucky enough to see the 18th and 19th century marvels of Jakarta, Malacca, Surabaya, Yogyakarta and Malang before the wrecking balls arrived.
Now I need to travel further afield to satiate my architectural lust for coquettish cornices or sexy stylobates.
India truly delivers in this area — progress having been slow enough to allow a few gems to survive — and no-where more so that Panaji the capital of Goa. Here one still finds taverns and government buildings in all the gorgeous Portuguese colonial colours, pretty much untouched since the 18th century.
There is also a 16th century capital, Old Goa, where the remains of Francis Xavier are buried in a magnificent basilica, Bom Jesus. A gate commemorating the arrival of Vasco da Gama in the 15th century is nearby.

A typical 18th Century Portuguese-colonial office building in Panaji, the capitol of Goa, India.

In Panaji one can stay at the budget “Panjim Inn” (“Panjim” the popular colonial name for Panaji) which is next to the magnificent Velha Goa Ceramics boutique in the heart of town; or on the outskirts of town, near the Old Portuguese district, in the swank new Taj Vivanta.
Around the corner from the Taj Vivanta is the uber-successful bistro “Mum’s Kitchen”, famous for its Goan specialities such as sausage curry and Pork Vindaloo with Goan bread.
My favourite eating place is the RIVIERA Café, riverside opposite the Soviet era. Mandovi hotel — the mussels and tiger prawn tandoor are to die for.
North and south of Panaji are village after village of quaint Portuguese-Goan domestic architecture and elegant churches.
There’s plenty of fun to be had on the tourist strips too.

•                •                  •


Horniman’s Circle, Fort Mumbai — a slice of London in the middle of mayhem.

After Goa I flew to Bombay for a meeting in the historic fort district with its layer upon layer of Portuguese, Dutch and English architectural heritage.
During the period of the British Raj many fine parks and circles were built to accompany the magnificent Anglo-Indian Public buildings — buildings such as the Victoria Terminus, the Prince of Wales Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum, plus various architecturally splendid colleges and churches.


The old Bombay Town Hall, jewel in the crown of Fort Bombay during the Raj, now the Asiatic Society Library.
Marble Statue of Mountstuart Elphinstone, Governor of Bombay 1819-1827 inside the Asiatic Society Library’s reading room. He was the founder of the system of state education in India.

The old Town Hall, now the Asiatic Society Library on Horniman’s Circle, is my favourite — a masterpiece of tropical Georgian neo-classical. The nearby Appolla Bundar area has a fascinating mix of seaside landmarks — the Gateway to India, the Taj Mahal hotel — and quaint old Parsee Apartments and seedy colonial era tenements. The area abounds with artshops, boutiques and trendy cafes (try ‘Indigo’) as well. 

10 June 2012: To Galeri Nasional , Jakarta for a retrospective of the paintings of 19th century Indonesian artist Raden Saleh, organized by the Goethe Institute
What a brilliant retrospective, artfully curated by German art historian Werner Klaus, and well-reviewed by Jamie James in the Wall Street Journal (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303768104577460802152339094.htm.)


Details of Raden Saleh’s “Capture of Prince Dipanagara”saron demung on show at the Galleri Nasional, Jakarta It was on loan from the Presidential Palace.

Dutch Governor General of the East Indies
A tiger drawing and a lithograph of a view of Banyuwangi in the 19th Century at the Raden Saleh retrospective.

Today is the last day of the short two week run, and the museum is packed.
I find a lot of Raden Saleh’s academic style art a fad overwrought (Going for Baroque!) but adore his drawings.
For me the detailing of the period costumes and glimpses of architecture of that period are fascinating as there are few other reliable records.
He sure had a showing sense for subject matter.

22 June  2012: To Solo for a Sungkeman (filial piety) ceremony at Ndalem Hardjonagaran
Since the death of Solo batik maestro and all round aesthete Hardjonagoro Go Tik Swan in 2009 his exquisite Javanese courtyard home has been preserved by his heir, Mas Warno (Kanjeng Harjo Soewarno) and family, as a private museum and special events venue.
The “special events” are generally for close friends and family and serve to keep the staid and stately courtyards of the museum section alive.
The batik artisans are still being kept busy in the back courtyards by Mas Warno and his extended families; are all get roped in, as it were, to make up the numbers/fill in the chorus for certain ceremonies.


Today Rajasa Arifin the second grandson of my Jakarta friend Asmoro Damais is to ceremonially ‘come of age’ in preparation for his khitanan circumcision tomorrow.
For the sungkeman (filial piety/parental blessing) ritual Mas Warno has the arranged the courtyard in the most artistic way.
On arrival I find three kraton palace grandees guarding the sajen/selamatan offerings in the large north pavilion (Solo is proud of its kejawen and Hindu rituals).  Behind them are rows of pesantren boys and girls in Muslim garb and behind them, but in front of a row of exquisite 10th century Singasari, East Java Siwaite statues, the batik ladies in colorful floral tunics.


One of the pesantren youths who took part in the prayer session preceeding the Sungkeman.

Kraton Palace nobleman ustad (Moslem cleric) guards the offerings at nDalem Hardjanegaran, Solo during Rajasa Arifin’s Sungkeman ceremony.


Mas Warno and his eight children greet us and we are lead to the south pavilion — also fringed with exquisite art — where there are four Dutch dining chairs, for the two sets of parents, or their representatives, and a number of Persian carpets spread out for the guests.
A small Saron Demung gamelan ensemble plays nearby. It is a dreamy and magical scene.
Eventually Mas Warno and his wife move to the head of the main carpet like quiet potentiates, and sit in front of a giant carved wooden gunungan sketsel screen from the house collection. Muslim prayers begin.


Gifts await distribution in one corner of the nDalem Hardjanegaran during Rajasa Arifin’s Sungkeman ceremony

Kanjeng Harjo Soewarno and wife Supiyah Anggriyani

As the house heathen (kafir) I sneak out during prayers and cruise the back courtyard, where I find a battalion of servants cooking serabi (Solonese pancakes) in ancient bronze pans. The kitchen is alive with the merry sound of song birds, the courtyard’s soundtrack.
The cooks are preparing Bistek (beefsteak) Komplit, complete with corrugated chips, carrot circles, peas and a dollop of stick-proof gravy.
After prayers Rajasa buries his head in his grandparents lap, in a nice not a nasty way, and then lunch is served.
We all loll around, over-eating  (in Solo there’s always both western and Solonese main courses) before being lead out and back to the reality of busy Jalan Keratonan.


Rajasa performs SUNGKEM to his paternal grandmother Ibu Asmoro Arifin-Damais

•                •                  •

That night we dined at the Diamond Karaoke Hall with the Mangkunegaran crown prince, Gusti Pangeran Parendrakarma, who is busy planning a big classical Javanese dance performance of Matah Ati on 8th – 10th September at his palace.
Put it in your diary because Solo still has the ability to amaze.


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