Sunday, October 26, 2014

Two girls

This is the first time I have ever managed to get the girls to sit (still) together  long enough for me to try to get a sisters portrait shot.

 Unfortunately, despite A & E's undoubted perfection, it looks very unnatural!

 Hmm a bit better....

 ..and better still......

This is a normal Sunday afternoon for us...hanging out with J & J & A & E, playing with the girls outside, admiring all their feats on the play equipment, keeping Nellie the Beagle calm, paying close attention to the feast we're lucky enough to have Josh prepare for us - every Sunday - how lucky are we?

Thursday, October 23, 2014

grandparent alert

My advice to any grandparent out there is to make sure you stand at the bottom of the slippery slide and WATCH your grandchild slide down!

For some reason I took it upon myself to break all the slippery slide rules last Saturday - and have ended up with a broken arm. I did a very good job of it - which meant I required a bit of surgery too - to have it pinned (on Monday)!

I'm still learning about life with only one useful arm (luckily only a short term prospect for me) but so far Rob has had to take the brunt of opening lids, cooking meals, doing up watches, driving the car, cutting up fruit etc etc etc.

It's coming up to November, a busy time of the year plans, summer fun plans, Christmas plans, some textile plans with Maxie, finishing off the work year plans...I just have to let a lot of it go now - that will be good learning for me...

But I find I can still take a picture with my little compact camera.................

The garden is looking Springtime pretty at the moment so I can take some time to smell the roses (although there aren't too many of them blooming yet). And I was pleased with a couple of my orchids this year, flowering so well...

...and my African violets have excelled themselves.

I brought this little guy back from Borobudur - a pretty tacky souvenir of an amazing temple I know. However, he's looking pretty comfortable in my "Judy" pot in the front courtyard now - though I'm not impressed with his ability to keep bad things at bay with that raised hand.....(come to think of it that left arm of his looks a bit like mine did after copping that fall off the slippery slide!)

Like many other Australians of my generation I have been reflecting on the incredible legacy of the venerable EG Whitlam (Prime Minister 1972-1975) who died Tuesday morning this week. Rob and I voted for the first time in December 1972 (voting age was 21 in those days) and I will never forget the excitement we felt that we had played a (small) part in the election of the new Whitlam Labor government after 23 years of "Menzies turbidity" (marvellous quote from Paul Keating this week).

We will also never forget our dismay upon returning to Australia House in London (from France) in November 1975 and learning about "the dismissal".  We could not believe it!  Three tumultuous years in government - but so much achieved - and Australia at last dragged kicking and screaming into the 20th century.

Thank you Edward Gough Whitlam, for those three years - and everything else since!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Last day in Yogya

Thursday, and its our last morning in Yogya. Sophie and Maddie have loved our tour bus (with a full bench seat to themselves, opulently padded and fully air conditioned) and we need a pic of them with it - just for the memory. For some unaccountable reason the bus is decorated with an unmistakable (and very apt) kangaroo!

We didn't have too much planned for the morning: a visit to the Sultan of Yogyakarta's Palace Kraton at the southern end of Malioboro Road.......

We were amused by the large numbers of Sultan's guards on the palace grounds. Apparently it is largely a volunteer force, most often retired members of the Indonesian army. They look like they're enjoying their roles and hanging out all day with their old army buddies. One of their important duties is to air the shadow puppets once a week to check they're working and free of mould.

I hadn't realised before the significant role the Sultans of Yogyakarta have played in the government of Indonesia. This century the various Sultans have been Vice Presidents, Governors and Defence Ministers in the central government. The current Sultan (number 10) lives at the palace in Yogyakarta.

We also visited the old Sultan's water palace Taman Sari. Designed by the Portuguese in the mid 18th century, today only the bathing complex and a few pavilions have survived, although not in pristine condition any more.

We finished off the morning with the inevitable visits to the arts workshops (and goods for sale of course!).  I quite enjoyed our quick visit to the batik workshop.

These ladies can take up to a year to complete the intricate batik waxing and fabric dyeing processes for costumes for royal ceremonies and weddings etc.

As our last Yogya treat Rob and I ordered the dish the city is renowned for - gudeg (otherwise known as "green jack fruit sweet stew"). It was quite a sweet dish based on coconut milk and palm sugar flavours. Its characteristic reddish colour is due to the addition of teak leaves as a colouring agent. Our gudeg was served with chicken, egg and beef skin(?). An absolutely beautiful dish that will be a definite favourite of mine forever more!

Our flight left Yogya at 4.15pm, with a few hours in Denpasar, and arrived in Sydney early Friday morning. We've had a fantastic two weeks in Indonesia - plenty of indulgence in beautiful Ubud and lots to learn and experience in Java too - all shared with great friends, making it much more fun and enjoyable. We'll definitely be back!!

Mt Merapi, Kaliurang and Prambanan

Wednesday’s breakfast at the Inna Garuda proved to be quite an adventure with a large array of Indonesian delicacies to try. This big, old, gracious, state run hotel, right smack in the middle of busy Malioboro Road seems to mainly cater for the Indonesian corporate crowd with plenty of marble in evidence and everything on a large scale.

We took another drive this morning, 25km north of Yogyakarta to the base of Mt Merapi, Indonesia’s most recently active volcano. 

I’m sure many people would remember the eruption in December 2010 that spread lava and ash over a huge area of Central Java and through to the stratosphere, with a catastrophic impact on air traffic in the southern hemisphere as a consequence.

Of course the impact on the surrounding villages in Central Java was especially catastrophic. We made the decision to do a jeep tour of the area around Mt Merapi – another of the village tourist initiatives to provide opportunities for locals in disadvantaged areas. Maddie and Sophie were very pleased with the decision – at last the oldies are doing something cool, dirty and fun!

The jeep tour was an eye opener – seeing the impact of 600oC lava spewing over a radius of 10-15klm – burning and/or melting everything in its path. At this end of the dry season, it was dust, dust and more dust everywhere. The volcanic rock is used for building so the dirt tracks are churned up by trucks as well as the jeeps. In some areas the rocks are still smoking hot – they haven’t properly cooled down yet after nearly four years!

As we tried to get rid of the worst of the dust with a rapidly depleting supply of wet wipes we drove the short distance to Kaliurang, an old colonial era hill station where we intended to have lunch at the Ullen Sentalu restaurant and a good look at the Sultan’s museum there, widely regarded as the best museum in Indonesia.

The restaurant (and the museum) was very elegant, a bizarre contrast to the jeep tour we’d just completed. I’m sure we left a layer of Mt Merapi volcano dust wherever we settled for the remainder of the day.

Then it was another hour or so’s drive back towards Yogyakarta to the nearby Prambanan Temple. Prambanan is another world heritage site, built at roughly the same time as Borobudur, but this time in beautiful accordance with the dictates of the Hindu religion.

Once again we learnt so much about the religion as well as the story of the building and its survival through earthquakes, colonialism etc, through viewing the three main temples to Vishnu, Shiva and Brahma, and the temples to their conveyances and all the priests – and then all the carvings illustrating the Hindu stories – and all that with a beautiful sunset (and moon eclipse too tonight just for good measure).

We walked for a kilometre or so under spectacular sunset skies enjoying the spectacle of the other smaller temples in the same area.

We were exhausted by the end of this big day and very dirty. It was great to finish the day with a long shower and another great meal at the Inna Garuda.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Borobudur Candirejo Yogyakarta

It was a very early start for us Tuesday morning – ready by 4.15am to drive the 10 minutes from the hotel to the park entry surrounding Borobudur temple.  We were met by Fateh our gentle and knowledgeable guide for the sunrise tour and made our way to the 10 levels of this most imposing and ancient (around 1200 years old) stone Buddhist temple (the largest in the world).

We climbed to a good vantage point in near darkness to await the rising of the sun.  There were other people there too to see the sunrise but everyone seemed prepared to wait and watch in quiet peacefulness.

A group of Buddhist monks were walking slowly clockwise around the nine levels of the temple emulating Buddha’s journey to Nirvana, as we quietly waited.

The temple’s famous stupas caught the shadows and rapidly changing light in magical ways, while remaining quietly contemplative.  I learnt that the stupas represent Buddha’s final resting place (the stupa’s shape echoes the lotus leaf, rice bowl and walking stick – all a man needs according to Buddha).

We were lucky to see a clear sunrise on Tuesday and in the gentle early light of day our Professor Fateh led us around the nine levels of the temple explaining the stories of Buddha’s life (in his over 500 incarnations) and the path to enlightenment. We also learnt about some of the challenges of restoring the building itself - its progressive reconstruction after 1000 years of being buried under volcanic ash and encroaching vegetation and then a massive earthquake in 2006 (and further ash damage in the 2010 Mt Merapi earthquake). The site has had world heritage listing since 1983 which has ensured the Indonesian government has had international help to restore, rebuild and conserve.

We all enjoyed this experience very much – very conscious of how lucky we’ve been to see such a site and be able to learn so much by the experience.  I also now understand that Buddhism is not really a religion but a philosophy and Indonesian Muslims are very proud of their Buddhist (and Hindhu) heritage.

We were back at the beautiful Plataran for a late breakfast and a swim after  short visits to the little Mendut and Pawan temples constructed at the same time as Borobudur – all built in a straight line to Mt Merapi in Central Java (the placement is significant obviously).

From Borobudur the plan was to drive to Yogyakarta with a stop off at the tiny village of Candirego to learn about the life of locals in the rural districts of Central Java. This tour has been developed as a means of involving village young people in tourism (learning skills and earning money) while showcasing traditional ways of life and involving foreigners in positive cultural experiences outside the usual tourist traps.  

This little village mushroom production "factory" was an eye opener.

We all learnt a lot from the experience but our timing was wrong, in that we were out and about in the hottest part of the day in such dry and dusty conditions (poor little ponies!) – most of the locals were resting in the hottest part of the day (sensible) and we wished we were too.

The tour ended with “refreshments” prepared and presented beautifully by one of the women of the village. It was such a relief to get out of the heat and the dust.

Although it was not too many kilometres from the village to Yogya it seemed to take us AGES to drive back. The roads are very narrow, filled with traffic, with little shops and businesses and small houses and dusty yards lining the road for miles and miles around the sprawling city of Yogyakarta.

We checked in to Inna Garuda on Malioboro Road after 4.00pm giving us enough time to check out the well ordered but noisy crowds on Malioboro Road and the excellent bargains at Morita Batik before finding a not too scary place (Batik Resto) to have a meal together and share our first impressions of Yogya (always very succinctly expressed by Maddie!).

The streets outside were increasingly raucous as the night wore on. Apparently we had timed our visit perfectly to coincide with Yogya’s birthday celebrations and the streets were filled with colourfully dressed and joyous groups joining in an endless noisy procession down Malioboro Road.  With all the glitter and make up it was a bit like Mardi Gras in Sydney (but without the GLBT factor of course).