Yogyakarta, Indonesia ~ city life vs village life

We finally decide to brave the big city…
A bit of geography (but see below for amazing street art if you are not interested in the geography bit);
Java is situated between the island of Bali to the east and Sumatra to the West. With a population of 135 million Java is the most densely populated island on the planet!
Indonesia is comprised of 17,000 islands in total, with about a dozen making up the bulk of the landmass.  The principal islands are Sumatra, Borneo, Java, Sulawesi, Bali, Lombok and Flores.
What is fascinating, from a geo-political point of view, is that Indonesia is at the cross roads of several major themes:
~  Indonesia is the largest Muslim country in the world.  As such it has role model potential as the largest functioning Islamic Democracy in the world.  It is also a model of pluralist acceptance
 ~ Muslims, though the majority, accept the vision and reality that Indonesia’s strength lies in its “unity through diversity”.
~ Indonesia is part of ASEAN, the Association of South East Asian Nations (Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam…).  This comprises the fastest growing economies of the world.  A group of nations going through the complex regional unification process that Europe went through 40 years ago.
Indonesia is smack in the middle of the most disputed sea territory in the world – the South China Sea where multiple countries have conflicting territorial claims of otherwise small and seemingly irrelevant islands, except of course that these islands are believed to have some of the largest, unexplored deposits of oil and gas in the world.
Also pertinent is that territorial claim carries a certain radius of fishing rights, important in a sea that is depleting at a rapid rate.  For this reason, Indonesia is the target of competing “affection” by China and the U.S., which are today strategic economic partners but tomorrow will be military adversaries in a world of limited resources.


Let’s zoom in on Yogyakarta, that locals refer to fondly as Jogja, where we are now…

Yogyakarta is the only region in Indonesia that is still governed by a pre colonial monarchy, the Sultan of Yogyakarta. The only non-elected official in Indonesian state, the Sultan acts as the hereditary governor of the region and enjoys enormous popularity with the people.

The city is known as the center of classical Javanese fine art and culture; batik, ballet, drama, music, poetry and puppetry. It also has at least 200 universities (2 million students).
Our first impression of Yogyakarta, the city:  glum!  It all looks so… “grey”
But then, we are reminded that the big nearby Volcano Mount Merapi ( a mere 30 km away) just erupted 1 month ago and released a massive plume of ashes, recorded as one of the largest in the island’s history, and literally covered the city of Yogyakarta with a thick coat of ash, over an inch thick…
The health hazard of driving or walking through the sulfuric ashes were reported in the national media as a major emergency and people were asked to stay home until “the dust settled” (this photograph was taken  – not ours – 1 month ago)
Looks like a winter winterland, but it’s sulfuric ash…What is called a rickshaw in other countries is called a “becak” here. (Also a month ago, when we saw these images in the newspaper, while in Bali).
The ash is  mostly gone (except that the same volcano burped again just 2 days ago, thankfully the wind blew in a different direction), but the city retains a grey appearance…

And then, as our eyes recalibrate, we start to see more color…

The city’s fantastic street art  POPS…

One becomes aware of the extraordinary canvas which the city’s walls have provided Yogyakarta’s  creative artists… From grafitti, to modern art to using walls to convey messages, street art is everywhere one looks!

Definitely bad ass!
After an injection of urban Indonesia, we retreat back to the small village of Tembi (20mn, $4 cab ride).  We move to new digs.
This small Homestay is run by Dave, a super interesting Australian with a distinguished career as a Humanitarian Aid Coordinator.  We came specifically to Tembi to meet with Dave, because of his work with bamboo for disaster response.   We love his passion and his commitment to finding more effective solutions for post disaster recovery.
We also love, love, love the bungalows he has built next to rice fields, where we are staying for 3 days.  Such taste!
View from our bungalow – Sunflowers and rice paddy
The bungalows are made from recycled teak wood
Best bathroom EVER!  Huge bathtub, in the open air right under bamboo
Private garden and patio to one side of bungalow
A meal on our patio
As we walk around Tembi village, we see a board with a map of the village and my name above it. And yes, my name in Indonesian, does in fact translate to “MAP”.  Nice to contrast the busy city of Jogja with the rural pace of Tembi…
A man takes a break from work on the side of the rice paddy. You can see the traditional Javanese joglo style house in the background.
A farmer sorting and shaking the rice grains from the harvested plants.
A rather rustic rice harvesting machine…  It does the job and has been working for generations.
Many of the original homes, such as this one, were built from wood and/or bamboo mats. After the earthquake (2006) when the village was completely destroyed and then rebuilt, most villagers were excited to get concrete modern houses.
One of the original older bamboo houses. The lower part of the house in light green is bamboo woven mats, painted a long time ago creating a gorgeous light teal patina.
A villager invites me inside the bamboo house. A partition to create the bedroom is decorated with the little girls drawing.  See natural air conditioning system (open bamboo).
Authentic Joglo Teak house with pointy roof like a Vietnamese hat…
A farmer goes into her house after securing her chickens in their coops to the right.
Roosters and chickens are king here. They rule! They are everywhere running freely and many of them have amazing, bright colorful plumage such as this one.
As we walk through the village, we run into a small museum…
OK enough chickens, but look at the way this couple makes a lovely heart shape…
Beautiful wood carving of traditional Yogyakarta man.
A friendly villager gives me a huge grin as he rides by.  Notice hat and face – same as wooden sculpture.
One of the village elders is more than happy to pose for me. He is wearing a batik design shirt of course.  Easy to see the inspiration for beautiful wooden sculptures.
A lone man sits outside the mosque as the speakers start the “call to prayer” (5 times a day) .
Little girl, wearing jihab (head covering) creates a pastel painting for me.
These young kids could be in Nicaragua.  Kids, the world over.
Children playing a game with elastic stretched between them for jumping on and over. I played this same game as a child when I (Peta) lived in Israel at age ten.  Different continent, different culture, same game.
The village has a plastic collection site ~ presumably for recycling. It’s a laborious job separating the foil lids from the plastic cups, which once held a cupful of water.

SHOUT OUT TO SAN FRANCISCO!  San Francisco just banned the use of plastic water bottles.  Woo hoo! The plastic water bottle industry has increased the quantity of highly destructive plastic bottles in the world’s ocean and waterways, as well as landfills.  Please people, use re-usable containers to stop this craziness.

This couple are separating the plastic bottles and cups by size.
A villager doing traditional batik. The hot wax is on the left and is applied by dipping a small spoon like utensil into wax to apply it to the cloth. She has a drop cloth over her lap and on the floor to catch the drops of hot wax.
A house constructed from bamboo mats which create the lower walls.
An elderly of the village out for a stroll.  You can see and feel her strength of character in her stride, and general posture.

10 thoughts on “Yogyakarta, Indonesia ~ city life vs village life

  1. Sharon Rosenzweig

    Oh, don’t be silly, there can never be enough chickens! You do realize how exotic these are! I guess you are more focused on housing and bamboo, OK, but thanks for humoring me. All this stuff is very cool. Great job, kids. Keep em coming!

    1. Peta Kaplan and Ben Sandzer-Bell

      Actually, chickens WERE the dominant feature in Tembi. Wherever we went, there were chickens, roaming around free. In order to take good photographs though, Peta realized we would need to feed them. So we did. The rooster and his girlfriend came back numerous times, like clockwork when we sat down for a bite and were, literally, “eating out of our hands”. We enjoyed observing them up close and interacting with them. Amazing and unusual plumage, and leggy beauties indeed.

  2. boydjensen

    AMAZING PEOPLE, PLACES and SCENERY. Thanks for continuing to show us our world and the people in it living and surviving everyday from these fabulous remote locations!! Jealous!!

  3. Peta Kaplan and Ben Sandzer-Bell

    Boyd! GREAT to hear from you! So glad you are reading us… Not so remote – just one (ok a few) plane rides away. We have decidedly chosen to make the “best” of our days on this small planet by experiencing as much as we can and meeting people the world over, while discovering their unique cultures. Keep reading and commenting so we know what “grabs you”… (if you haven’t read, go back to our recent Bali days – really amazing!).

  4. Stanski

    Glad you got to the village of Tembi – it looks to be a refreshing breather, which I enjoyed seeing via the pictures, after what appears to be gloomy hectic Jogja… I can imagine it was a mixed bag though….
    Love the chickens and pace of the village better – the picture of that woman is wonderful – she seems to be on a mission all right – LOL…

    I do like the street art – the one depicting what looks like a Scrabble game looks really interesting and up my alley – Looks to be an ‘anti capitalist’ type piece – Monsanto etc – Love it!!
    What’s the word over there regarding GMO’s etc….?

    Loving your posts!!

    1. Peta Kaplan and Ben Sandzer-Bell

      Stan(ski) about GMO: In Indonesia, like in many parts of Asia Pacific, a battle has been waged with the likes of Monsanto over the introduction of allegedly “better” rice. On one hand, there are some valuable technical innovations through “breeding” in order to develop rice that is resistant to salination which is a direct result of climate change … sea level rising means increasing encroachment of sea water into rice paddies. Thats the good part. The bad part, in fact the very very bad part is that the addicition to cheap and fast growing rice has come hand in hand with farmer indebtedness, because once they grow this type of poor quality rice, that is the only type that they can grow in that soil….. Secondly, the impoverishment of the top soil as a result of GMO rice which is creating much more serious long term issues in an economy that is so dependent on rice. Where there used to be a bewilderingly rich biodiversity in the many types of rice, there is now a mono culture of GMO rice. In Ubud there are some micro attempts at “boutique” organic growers. Sadly does not change the bigger picture of what has happened to the rice and the impact on the economy, soil, farmers etc. The final straw is that with the combination of low wages and hard work for rice cultivation, is being countered by rising land prices for development of houses in high tourist destinations, which means that the pace of conversion of rice paddies to development land is accelerating exponentially. Within one generation it is expected that most small farmers will simply give up and sell their paddies to developers bringing to an end a rice cultivation culture which is several thousand years old.

  5. Peta Kaplan and Ben Sandzer-Bell

    Jogja was gloomy at first, but gradually “grew on us”. This is often the case we find.. which is, sometimes you have to take the time to adjust to a new place and notice what it is that makes it different or interesting. In this case, the street art really was captivating and fascinating to see, as were the “tuk tuks”. Ben loves Scrabble too! So glad you are enjoying ~ we are enjoying your feedback as well!

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Yes incredible volume of street art…its just everywhere. Yogyakarta is home to many talented artists.

      Thanks for swinging by our blog.


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