Monday, April 29, 2013

Y: Oh, the places you'll go!

This is my contribution to the A to Z Blogging Challenge, in which I'm focusing on overseas destinations I've visited.
Y is for Yogyakarta, Indonesia (August 1989)
Unfortunately, our visit to Yogyakarta (known as a center of classical Javanese fine art and culture, in particular batik, ballet, drama, music, and puppetry) was completely marred by our horrific journey there after our relaxing stay in Pangandaran. And it was all because of the Swiss.
We had to ride sitting on the floor nearly all the way to Yogya because of an intensely rude, hostile group of Swiss tourists, who had bought two tickets apiece and refused to allow us to sit down. Every other seat was empty (and many were filled with luggage while the luggage racks above sat empty). When we asked if we could sit there, they said no (coldly). One double seat was filled with just luggage, and when I asked if we could put it in the rack above, a horrible man said I could put MY bag in the luggage rack but I could not sit there. Not one person would move his or her bags to let us sit down. We couldn't believe it. I was so angry I couldn't hold it in, but I tried. We plopped ourselves on the floor on our bags and prepared to be uncomfortable for the five-hour journey. At that point I still believed that someone would take pity on us and give us one of their precious seats.

The only other foreigners were a Belgian couple and the man could speak German. He started arguing with a couple and insisted they give up their vacant seats. He sat in one and motioned for his girlfriend to sit in the other; however, she was reluctant to join him.
This tour group also had a nasty piece of work for a tour guide, who insisted that they had paid for ALL the seats, and therefore there were no seats for us. It didn't matter that the vacant seats were not being used or that that we were humans and the seat occupants were pieces of luggage.
When the conductor came to collect tickets, the tour guide complained. A ferocious fight soon ensued. The Belgian argued that we too paid for seats, the seats were not being used, why is luggage more important than people, etc., and then muttered something about whose pockets were being lined with money and corruption...and the maggot of a tour guide flew at him. He started ranting on about why had he come to Indonesia if it's corrupt, and that HE was the one who was corrupt, and why doesn't he like Indonesians? (even though he hadn't said that), and shouted at him, "GET OUT, NOW!" I thought there'd be a knock-down-drag-out fight. Not only was I worried for the Belgian guy but also for myself since I was sitting near him on the floor. It was all horrid and frightening. The unkind, unhelpful conductor blamed it on us for not getting seat numbers in Banjar! I wrote in my journal,
"Those Swiss were the most horrible, cruel, heartless, totally uncompassionate snobby pigs I have ever laid eyes on. Not one person gve up their extra seat. We were treated as a side show in a circus--two people even had the gall to take photos of us. Throughout the journey they were constantly stepping over us as if were vermin, alternately staring at us or trying to pretend we didn't exist. Each time the train would stop, all the cameras and videocameras would come out, to capture 'the real Indonesia' on film, the 'charming natives.' It was disgusting." 
Halfway to Yogya, all sorts of official men boarded the train, including the police. The tour guide had called the station to say there was trouble on the train. Another heated argument ensued and the Belgian woman and I contributed with angry bits. Mike sat brooding next to me. They told the Belgian that he could sit in third class--they'd found a seat for him--but he asked if they had four seats for all of us, and said he wouldn't move until they found four seats. The policeman made a move to pull him out by force. They went off to sit in third class, where it was oppressively airless and smoky.
I will never forget how those Swiss were so inhumane and heartless. I responded in anger at first, and snapped at a man climbing over me. Then Mike calmed me down by reminding me not to sink to their level. It certainly didn't do any good to be angry at them. Before this experience, I had always wanted to visit Switzerland. I had a poster of Switzerland in my college dorm room. But after this experience, I lost all interest in Switzerland. I found it incredibly depressing that there are human beings on this earth who have absolutely no compassion or human feeling for others at all.
We did have a happy ending though, of sorts. About an hour before we reached Yogya, a young Indonesian man came up to me (by this time my legs and butt were aching and I was exhausted) and told us there were two seats available because two people had gotten off the stop before. It must have been fate, because the two really nice guys were studying Japanese and were soon going to Japan. The seats felt heavenly and were a godsend after 4-1/2 hours on the floor.
When we arrived at Yogya there was a mad dash of blue-shirted porters, madly pushing and shoving to get on the train. They were not about to let us off first. It felt like we were pushing against a human wall to disembark, and I was worried something would get stolen in the crush. The Swiss tourists got off the train in snob style, minus their suitcases. Oh yes, let the peons carry them! We lost track of the Belgian couple, sadly, and I was hoping their luggage didn't get carted off with all the Swiss paraphernalia, and they would have had to fight again to retrieve it!
Finally we got off the train, feeling worse for wear. We decided to splurge on a nice(r) hotel after our trauma, and we rode in a decrepit "taxi" to the Wisma Gaja to check in. We felt exhausted physically and emotionally.
We spent the afternoon recuperating, reading, and swimming in our hotel pool. By the time we went to bed, feeling very tired, I wrote in my journal, "I hope their hotel burns down." (I was spitting mad!!)
Artist at work in Yogyakarta
We had been looking forward to Yogyakarta, being a cultural center, but unfortunately it's also full of touts and supposed "tour guides" who try to lure you to batik galleries. It's one of the most touristed cities in Java, and one feels constantly on guard. We bought some batik paintings at one such touristy batik centers but were much happier when we came across some smaller galleries, where we could actually talk to the artists. 
Wayang puppet
Wayang Kulit play

One evening we went to see a Wayang Kulit (shadow puppetry) performance at Hanoman's Forest Restaurant. According to Lonely Planet's web site, this place has since closed because of lack of tourist interest. Another day we visited the amazing Borobudor, about an hour's journey from Yogya.
One of the batiks we bought in Yogya (still not framed!!!)
For the most part, though, we disliked the aggressive touts in Yogya, not to mention the need to bargain to get a decent deal on batiks. For its attraction as a cultural center, it attracts hordes of tourists (like the awful Swiss). On the next leg of our journey (in transit to Bali by bus and train), we had to sit on the floor again for awhile...until the train conductor came through and kicked out some of the people with third-class tickets who had been sitting in second class!
Visit here to read my A-X posts. Tomorrow is the last day of April A to Z! Back to Japan, where the journey all started.

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