14 August 2009

Tour de Indo (or: Adventure of the Week)

So, as it turns out, my arrival in Jogja seems to have been extremely well-timed.  [Side note: I'm experimenting with the spelling of Yogya/Jogja -- although the two spellings are both correct and interchangeable, I'm starting to feel like going with the phonetic version might be easier ... we'll see.]  My classes start in five days, which means that until then I'm just taking my time getting adjusted and playing tourist -- generally this is an awesome way to spend one's time, except "tourist" is a game that is really no fun to play by yourself.  Luckily, I haven't had to play it by myself.  There were two other Shansi fellows visiting Emma/Jogja this week -- Michelle, who is about to start her second year in Banda Aceh (on the northernmost tip of Sumatra, which is the big island west of Java) and Anne, who is about to start her second year in China -- and although they left this morning for Aceh, sadly, I still got the chance this week to figure out that, as luck will have it, they are both pretty rockstar adventuring partners.

This blog post's featured installment of said adventure began at 8AM on this past Tuesday morning, and took the form of a four hour bike tour through a cluster of small farming villages on the outskirts of Jogja.  Annie and I met up with Michelle and Sarah (who's going to be the first-year Shansi fellow in Michelle's post, but is in Jogja for two months doing language study) at this café downtown called ViaVia, where they run these tours out of.  The café is pretty touristy, with a Western menu and English-speaking staff, but has a really nice atmosphere and organizes all these awesome cultural activities to help foreigners get a deeper taste of Java, including batik workshops, cooking courses, city walks, temple trips, and, of course, bike tours.  (It's actually part of a larger network of ViaVia cafés all over the world -- there are a couple in Africa and South America, and even one in Spain!  Too bad I didn't know that while I was there.)  Our guide was Dita, a round-faced, smiley young Indonesian woman (although generally Indonesians are always smiling all the time -- too bad Thailand got to the nickname first).  After introductions, we headed to the "garage" to pick out our bikes, which turned out to be an open courtyard across the street with a bunch of old-school bicycles with the curvy handlebars and scooping "women's bike" frames.  There weren't a whole bunch that were small enough for me, but I picked out a sweet peach-colored bike which was adorable, although the brakes were a little sketchy.  I figured if I really had to make an emergency stop, I could always swing my legs through the scooped out frame and do it foot-to-ground style.  That's what those frames are built for, right?

We had to bike for about 15 minutes on a larger road heading out of Jogja, but then we turned off the main road onto this little dirt lane and it was like someone had flipped the metropolis switch.  Within about thirty seconds we had totally left the traffic and bustle of the city behind, and were weaving our way through a little village of tile-roofed houses and dodging chickens as they crossed the road.  It really gave a whole new meaning to the old joke, and the answer went something like "Because something yummy to scrounge around in the dust for was on the other side, and wouldn't it be thrilling to almost get hit by an old Dutch bicycle while trying to get to it."  Part of the tour was a chance to check out some of the "house industries" in these villages, and our first stop was a krupuk factory.  "Krupuk" are these Indonesian rice cake chip things that are made from tapioca flour (I think?) and various seafood flavorings, such as fish and shrimp, and by "factory" I mean a family's garage where they manufacture these things by the thousands and sell them to markets in Jogja.  The basic process involves first making the dough, which they then stuff into this cylinder with a wheel on top, and when you spin the wheel it compresses the dough and squirts it out the bottom of the cylinder in a long dough noodle.  There was one dude sitting on top of the machine spinning the wheel with his foot and fanning himself while jamming to Indonesian pop music (basically the hooked up job) and three guys squatting under the cylinder catching the dough noodle on the tops of little circular cans to make the krupuk pieces as it squirted out (basically the shaft job).  After they formed the krupuk, each of which look like an oval of intricately folded noodle yet take approximately 1.5 seconds each to catch from the noodle squirter machine, they steam them and then lay them out on these huge crates in the yard to sun-dry for two days.  Here's a picture of the krupuk lying out to dry:

After drying, they deep-fry the krupuk (as they do with pretty much every other food item in Indonesia) which causes the little pieces to puff up into these huge crunchy, shrimp-flavored chips, and ta-da -- krupuk.  We got to "help" the guys make a few from the noodle-squirter machine, which was a total disaster, and then we got to try some finished ones, which were pretty tasty (even if it was a little early in the morning for shrimp chips).  We thanked the family for the snacks, and then it was back on the bikes.

Our next stop was at a small compound of stables where a bunch of farmers kept their animals.  We hung with the cows for a while and ooed and ahhed over the baby chick(en)s that scampered around our feet.  By far the most amusing element of this stop was watching a baby calf, whose mother had died, suckling on the udders of a different calf's mama.  Every few minutes the calf would chomp down on the udders and/or butt the mama in the abdomen with its head, at which the mama would kick her back leg a little bit, and go back to drinking out of the bucket one of the farmers had in front of her.  This looked extremely painful, but also typical of bovine motherhood.  Go figure.

Next up was a rice field where, again, we "helped" the farmers shuck the rice, which basically involved beating the rice plant on a board so that all the rice grains flew off and were collected in a big tarp underneath.  There was also a machine that let the farmers separate the rice grains from the plant by placing the plant through the spokes of a madly spinning wheel (you can see it in the bottom right-hand corner of this picture) but we were told that using the machine could basically chop our fingers off if we weren't careful and accidentally let go of the rice plant, which wasn't a risk any of us were willing to take.  So we stuck to "helping" manually.

After the rice harvest we biked to the house of some women who were making tempeh, which are these little soybean cakes kind of like tofu but more crunchy, and are a staple of the Javanese diet.  Snacks abounded here as well, as we were taken back to a tiny kitchen where a girl who was probably about 12 years old fried us up tempeh and served it to us straight out of the skillet.  Mm mm good.  Snacks did not abound at our next stop, however, which was at a brick-making factory (factory, in this case, was a little field by the side of the road).  But while we didn't get to snack, we did get to make bricks, which involved squelching our hands into a bucket of mud and then plopping some mud down into an eight-brick mold on the ground, wiping down the top of the mud blocks with water, picking up the mold and doing it again.  After the bricks dried in the sun for a while, they would be moved to a huge furnace the size of a small cottage and baked under straw.  The best part of brick-making was making the divots on top of each wet brick to help them fit together better once they were dry -- instead of divots, obviously, we wrote our initials in the mud, so as to permanently inscribe our identities on the island of Java.  Sure, they'll be inside a brick, but they'll be there.

As our tour was wrapping up, Dita realized her bike had a flat tire, so after asking some village kids where the nearest garage was, we made our way to the house of an old man who apparently could patch Dita's tire.  While we waited, we sat across the street on a children's swing-set and made friends with an Indonesian mother and baby boy, which mostly involved flirting with the baby.  While we flirted, the mother knocked some small fruits off a nearby tree and shared them with us, which was totally awesome of her though I wasn't sure what they were -- later Michelle told me it was "water guava," whatever that is.  Can't keep all my tropical fruits straight, dontchaknow.

With Dita's tire patched we were back on the road, back out of the villages, back into Jogja and back to ViaVia.  Sarah was only about one hour late for her language class, but that's how time runs on this island.  Though the tour was obviously a tourist activity and more than five times the price of what I normally spend on dinner (coming to a grand total of about US $8), I'd say it was totally worth it to get to see a different side of Jogja -- a quieter, more peaceful one, one without the zipping motorbikes and careening buses and cell phone stalls on every street corner, where chickens can cross the road and actually have a hope of making it to the other side.  Minus the brake-less Dutch bicycles, of course.

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