Yogyakarta Day 1: In Which There Is a Monkey Fight

On New Year’s morning, I was in an airplane going to Yogyakarta, sleepy as hell but psyched to be exploring a new part of Indonesia.

From the Adusicipto Airport, I got a cab to take me to Whiz Hotel, a newly opened boutique hotel just on the corner of Jalan Malioboro. I was pretty disappointed to find neither references to cheese nor urine. I was even more bummed to learn that the receptionist would not let me check in at 7 a.m., telling me to come back after lunch. This effectively gave me six hours to kill.

I doused my anger with some juice and chips from a nearby Circle K and began walking up and down Malioboro, which from what I can tell is the province’s spiritual and commercial center.

Jl. Malioboro. Much like the entire province, there’s nothing to do, but lots of things to see if you’re into it.

I got accosted by numerous guys insistent on having me visit their “art galleries,” which usually turn out to be just batik shops with jacked-up prices, but had to refuse because I didn’t feel very supportive of the arts at 8 in the morning.

With my backpack starting to weigh heavy on my shoulders, and my camera bag strap digging into my neck, I sat down on one of many benches dotting the length of the road, opened my Lonely Planet guide and tried to figure out where I could go.

I settled on the Kraton, the sultan’s palace, which I read had two entrances — a fake one that charged only Rp 5.000 and the legit one that charged Rp 12.000. Going there, I had to walk through some sort of huge carnival complex, with dirty rides that looked like they’ve killed quite a few people in their day.

Once or twice, I entered the wrong building (I had to pay a mosque beggar to point me back in the right direction) and couldn’t quite place where this legitimate entrance was. So I entered the fake one, brushing off the men in batik who offered to give me a guided tour, and leisurely took pictures of a rather pretty but run-down palace courtyard.

Lovely colors. I was so enthralled.

I noticed the place, including the dingy museums, weren’t curated and offered little information as to the purpose of the elaborate wooden structures, the army of grey-skinned mannequins wearing opulent uniforms or why there were gilded chicken cages all over the place. There was a tiled staircase at the far end of the courtyard that ended in a locked green gate, and I wondered if I was missing out on the real palace experience on the other side.

This made me feel very deprived.

Under the shade of a rheumatic banyan tree, I contemplated my next move, and decided on finding the Affandi Museum, which a friend recommended from his last Yogya jaunt. I hailed a cab– what would be my chariot for the remainder of the morning– and got to the very eccentric Affandi.

The ticket came with a free drink, and unlimited access to the paintings and trinkets of the late artist and his two, now elderly, daughters. Maybe my aesthetic appreciation was off, but I was just inwardly laughing at all these crazy self-portraits and Van Gogh-esque psychedelic renditions of the Eiffel Tower. If a box of crayons vomited, I feel like this is what it would amount to.

Also, check out somebody’s flattering tribute to Affandi, who is buried with his wife on a plot right next to the museum’s cafe.

This sums up the experience.

For lunch, I tried my luck at Via Via (closed), Warung Opera (where the owner will gladly read your tea-leaf fortunes. Also closed.) and then Tembi (but the driver brought me to the wrong Tembi). I ended up at this posh, sprawling hotel called D’Omah, whose most interesting feature was the fattest duck I have ever seen, squatting like a sultan on the grass before the slaughter.

I took a seat at the backyard restaurant, which had a view of a very pretty rice paddy. The food was quite pricey, but I was too tired to walk out.

Steaming bowl of broccoli soup.
Javanese fish and moldy-tasting greens I had trouble eating.

I jetted out of there when this group of posh French people started distilling the air with snobbery. At this point, I felt like crap and was glad to be able to go back to Whiz, check into a clean, airconditioned room, and take the best shower of my life before taking a good, long nap.

When I gained consciousness in the evening, I decided to take a bencak (hermit-crab shaped bike carts) and catch the Ramayana Ballet (named after the performance troupe that regularly performs at Prambanan Temple) at Purawisata entertainment complex.

The place was filled with teak gazebos and a terraced restaurant with an aging gamelan orchestra playing the Javanese equivalent of lounge music. The show starts at 8 p.m. daily and for around Rp 100.000, you can avail of a buffet dinner before the performance.

I ate a good eclectic dinner before a raging pack of Greeks wiped it all out. There was spicy tofu, chicken and beef satay, mixed collard greens, potato wedges, some fried noodles, your typical nasi goreng, ayam goreng, some sort of brisket, sweet and sour shrimp, and mashed potatoes. For dessert there was rice pudding with brown sugar and an assortment of fruits.

While eating, the waiters gave us summaries of the Ramayana story so we could contextualize what we would see later on. On the dot, the staff led us to an open-air theater, which was really nice, except it rained in the first act. So we all filed into another theater across the courtyard, and continued watching the display. I didn’t understand shit, but it was nice seeing the lovely costumes and the serpentine motions the dancers would constantly make. Why are the women in the play so demure?

This is the great monkey fight, with fire!

I turned in a little before midnight, taking another bencak through moderate downpour back to the hotel. I flopped on the bed, turned off the lights and congratulated myself for a pretty interesting start to the New Year.

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