Everything but the cat-poo coffee…

Central Java is widely known for its prized kopi luwak coffee beans. In the city of Yogyakarta, one can be lucky enough to find a one-pound bag of the stuff for about $150…and this is a city where you can get a decent hotel room for $5 a night. Sadly, this is the one local custom that I did not partake in during the past 4 days, especially considering that a good cup of coffee or espresso is one of my favorite things in the world. However, I normally prefer the frothiness in my  cappuccino to come from steamed milk…and not from the fuzzy lip-tingling sensation of a digested cat-hairball. Yep, the reason for kopi luwak‘s outrageous price lies in the way it is harvested. Apparently, a certain breed of jungle cat has acquired a taste for Java’s coffee beans. The beans are then partially digested along with whatever else the cat has been eating, and then shat out for “harvesting”.  If you like, check out the wiki page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kopi_Luwak, or try Googling it. You’ll return a hitlist of various internet companies guaranteeing the authenticity of their product, and detailing why their coffee is, well…the shittiest.

Luckily, Yogyakarta has a lot more to offer than its coffee. Although still a big city, it has a much smaller feel to it than Jakarta, and has become the center of Indonesian (specifically Javanese) culture.

img_3363My first day here, I headed over to the local backpackers hangout, Via Via.  They have such a great setup for tourists, serving food and drinks, and most importantly, it’s a great place to organize very affordable tours around Central Java. The first tour that I chose was a simple walking tour through Yogyakarta’s attached slum village. I was a bit hesitant, at first, upon hearing the word slum. However, it was actually one of the quaintest and cleanest parts of the city, and had it’s own air-conditioning system being situated right next to the river. These parts of the city are almost like autonomous sub-cities. They have their own volunteer police force, each having it’s own “station” manned by a guy who uses a hollow wood block that can be tapped in different rhythms to warn the inhabitants of fire, crime, or to merely call a meeting.

img_3364The people living in this area make roughly $100 a month, yet seem to be very happy with their lives and sense of community. I didn’t ask the woman in this picture to smile…nor would I have wanted to. In this case, she was having a rather detailed conversation with our guide, most of which consisted of her bragging about her children. Everyone here wants to know where I’m from and how long I’m staying in their city. When I tell them I’m from the USA, they will without fail respond with “Ooooh! Barrack Obama!” Try getting that response four years ago. Indonesia is the world’s largest Islamic Republic, and most of the people here wish to go on living their lives without being lumped in as enemies of the West.

I had met a very energetic Belgian couple on the walking tour, and afterwards we all signed up to do the visit to Borobudur early the next morning at 5:00 AM. Our driver made his way through the small villages and rice paddies, all of which were shrouded in a beautiful lowlight mist, all the while being able to make out the volcano Mount Merapi poking up through its own veil in the distance. After 45 minutes of this breathtaking landscape, Borobudur began to loom on the horizon and take shape.

img_3422img_3407Borobudur is the largest Buddhist Stupa in the world, and, depending on whose list you’re reading, one of the seven wonders of the world. It’s also another example, like Pompeii, how the world’s most destructive forces can preserve something so awesome for 1200 years. In its simplest sense, Borobudur is a pyramid, like those of the Egyptians, or the step pyramids of the Mayans and Incans, and is a reminder to me that in the infancy of all of our civilizations, we were all striving for the same sort of enlightment, if only in different languages. I seriously cannot describe how amazing this site is. It seems to just belong there, fitting in timelessly with the beauty of its surroundings.

Ironically, the local school children, who came to Borobudur on a field trip, were not as interested in taking pictures of the temple as they were of getting their pictures taken with me. This was fun the first two or three times, but began to get a little old around the img_3423twelfth time of hearing “Misterrrrrr! I love you misterrrrr! Can I take your picturrrrrrrre!” Apparently, as part of their English curriculum, students are told to interview the bules for homework. So, usually, after the initial giggling, they settle down and produce a notepad with their questions scrawled on it. They suddenly become very serious, as if they are all aspiring Wolf Blitzers, and the interview begins. It really is adorable, and I can understand now why Angelina Jolie is always going to other countries and kidnapping the local children.

The next day, I attended a cooking class set up once again by the folks at Via Via. For about $8, me and my new friend Yukiko from Japan were given a hands-on lesson by a very patient Balinese woman. In 3 hours, we made and consumed a spicy chicken dish called ayam rica rica, a vegetarian dish called sayur lodeh,  and accompanied it with fried fermented tofu and a special rice dish cooked in coconut milk. I don’t have room to post the recipes here, but will gladly e-mail copies to those that are interested. The preparation was done on the beautiful rooftop of Via Via, right as the sun was setting which made the food taste even better.

img_3432Finally, a trip to Yogya is not complete without witnessing the art scene that it is known for. Both the Javanese Puppet show and the Ramayana ballet are set to the eerie sounds of the gamelan orchestra. They both tell the tale of the abduction of the goddess Shinta, and the subsequent ass-kicking done by her husband Rama and a crazy white monkey in order to get her back….and then it gets weird. It is basically your classic epic love story, rife with fire, self-castration, and magic circles of protection…pretty normal stuff really.  I found the ballet a bit more interesting, mostly because they actually gave us a very poorly translated plot synopsis…plus the children playing the white monkey’s posse were so funny to watch. There are lots of videos of this on YouTube if you want to check it out.

On the other hand, the puppet show should never be attempted in any country where mild hallucinagenics are legal by law. img_3435The show is done from behind a screen, so all that you see is their very twitchy and pointed sillhouetes gyrating spasmodically across the screen. Their pointed elbows poking around reminded me of my sister, and I started to laugh uncontrollably.  If you move to the other side of the screen, you can watch the gamelan orchestra play the music while the sole puppeteer tosses his little two dimensional puppets around in the light. However, couldn’t help feeling sorry for the poor bastard below, who sat there banging away disinterestedly at his 6 notes in what seemed like no particular order…for two hours. I have a video that clearly shows his contempt for his chosen profession, although I think this picture almost encapsulates his apathy:

img_3439“I knew I shouldn’t taken that SAT a bit more seriously…”

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~ by parlatorepazzo on March 12, 2009.

5 Responses to “Everything but the cat-poo coffee…”

  1. great stuff Ryan. Glad you are discovering the real Indonesia. I miss it right now especially reading you well written posts. Thanks

  2. The kids are cute, bring me one.

  3. I played Javanese gamelan for a semester at SDSU. It’s a trip!

  4. Wow- looks like you had some amazing experiences. I would love a copy of the recipes!

  5. Just a note. I think that kopi luwak comes from being eaten by small animal from the rat family (the luwak) and not cats. At leats that’s how I heard it explained to me here. I would also recommend visiting the rice fields i’m lucky enough to be married to an Indonesian godess, so I spend time with her family at their rice farm every year or so, and I enjoy the peace and quiet found here.

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