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Monday, 25 July 2016

Colliding with Java in Jogja

Street food seating in Jogja, July 2016

All places in the world are a mixture of the bitter and the sweet. The overall taste depends on our outlook: our capacity to endure unpleasantness, or our perspective on joy. Personal tendencies have the biggest influence, and so often when we are abroad we are seeking something left behind. Imagined concepts can be as true to the individual as concrete realities. What is it we desire when we travel to foreign lands? Pleasure, novelty, but overall a sense of authenticity that is frequently characterised and sold as a dip into the exotic unknown.

Do these places really exist? And if they do, would we really want to go to them? We stay four nights in Jogja, and by the end I am adamant that no one could accuse us of not seeing the 'real' Jogja. Indeed, unlike many places in this wide world, there are not two different sides to this city. The real Jogja is everywhere around; but whether it marries up with the perceived image of the 'real' in the East, the Orientalist vision rather than the Asian reality - well, that depends on what one hoped to find there.

Joining the locals in Jogja, shoes off and on a mat on the pavement. July 2016

In Jogja, we take a tut-tut down polluted, diesel-fumed roads; get lost searching for spices in huge markets selling all the clothes one could imagine to exist in the world; and sit in luxury air-conditioning amongst relentless traffic that's either reckless, hedonistic or selfish. We climb up newly-built temples on ancient foundations until our legs ache, and drive for hours and hours into the countryside, understanding that whilst the rural is likely to be found, the land has long been colonised. We see what the Javanese want us to see; but it is not glossy or glamorous. Entirely unlike Bali, Java exists as it exists. Arriving here, one cannot pretend to live in fantasy: Jogja is unapologetic and brash. It has the feel of a city in the area of a town, with a near-constant amplified call-to-prayer amongst a wealth of colourful people to a backdrop of green and grey buildings. This here is an Indonesian reality, quite at odds with images of tropical rainforests and unspoilt air. Make of it what you will.

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