Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Moving to Yogya!

Tomorrow I'm moving to Yogyakarta!

When I decided to renew my ELF fellowship for a second year, I learned that I would have to relocate to another host site. Gorontalo was not going to be renewed for a third year. Having visited Yogya twice over the past year and knowing that the ELF project there was writing based, I asked my supervisor at the US Embassy if I could be posted in Yogya for my second year. Luckily for me he said yes!

Before I go on, here's a short excerpt from Lonely Planet for a bit of background information:

If Jakarta is Java's financial and industrial powerhouse, Yogyakarta is its soul. Central to the island's artistic and cultural heritage, Yogyakarta (pronounced 'Jogjakarta'), called Yogya for short, is where the Javanese language is at its purest, Java's arts at their brightest and its traditions at their most visible.

Fiercely independent and protective of its customs, Yogya is now the site of an uneasy truce between the old ways of life and the onslaught of modernity. Still headed by its sultan, whose kraton remains the hub of traditional life, contemporary Yogya is nevertheless as much as a city of cybercafes, lounge bars, and traffic jams as batik, gamelan and ritual. But while the process of modernization homogenizes many of Java's cities, Yogya continues to juggle past and present with relative ease, sustaining a slower, more conservative way of life in the quiet kampung that thrive only a stone's throw away from the throbbing main streets.

Yogya's potency has long outweighed its size, and it remains Java's premier tourist city with countless hotels, restaurants, and attractions of its own. The city is also an ideal base for exploring nearby attractions, including Indonesia's most important archaeological sites, Borobudur and Prambanan.

I'm thrilled that I'll be in Yogya this year, but before saying too much about why, I just want to say how much I'll miss Gorontalo. Gorontalo was not an easy place to get used to at first, but by the end of the year I really felt a strong connection to it, especially to the diving, Rantje, the whale sharks, my lovely students, the rice paddies, the fabulous sunsets, the misty mountains, the bentors, the candy colored houses and everything else. Yesterday I met Christina and Jolie, the new ETAs heading to Gorontalo, and felt both excited for them and sad for me that I won't be there. At least I'll be able to go back to visit.

Not only am I leaving the town of Gorontalo behind, but I'm also leaving the exotic, remote island of Sulawesi altogether and heading to Java, Indonesia's most populated and most developed island. A part of me longs to hold on the adventure and ruggedness that Sulawesi implies, but another part of me is also ready to embrace the comforts and sophistication of Java, especially Yogya.

I think my experiences in Yogya will be like night and day compared to Gorontalo. Just look at my housing situation for starters. Instead of being all alone in a house plagued with rats, power outages and a terrible internet connection, I am moving into what we affectionately dubbed 'The Palace' last year. My friend Amber (aka 'Princess') lived in a guest house belonging to the university. When we all descended upon the Palace for Thanksgiving last year, we were astounded at the Javanese wood furnishings, the wi-fi access, the hot showers, the goldfish ponds in the communal areas and the live-in help. And now I get to live there! Yes! I'm also looking forward to the fact that the guest house will host a rotating variety of international scholars throughout the year. It will be like Real World Academia. I've already been in email contact with an American woman named Anastasia, a Boren Fellow. And she mentioned that there's also a German woman staying at the house now. And then I learned from someone else that a Luce Fellow will be arriving soon. It'll be fun to have some interesting roommates.

Another big difference will be in the job itself. I'll be working at the Indonesian Consortium for Religious Studies, which is part of the graduate school of Gadjah Mada University. GRADUATE school. Just that fact alone implies that the students will be much better prepared for academic work than my plagiarizing undergrads in Gorontalo. At least I hope so. Also, Gadjah Mada or UGM is considered part of the Indonesian 'Ivy League'. When I went to visit Amber there last January, I was very impressed by everything from the quality of the facilities to the professionalism of the faculty and staff I met. My job will be to teach a writing class twice a week and then meet with students for individual consultations and tutorials to fulfill the rest of my 12 hours/week teaching requirement. I also think I'll be leading monthly movie sessions featuring films that deal with intercultural conflict.

And then there's the city of Yogya itself. I've heard that it's the second most visited place in Indonesia besides Bali. What that means for me is that in addition to the wonderful art scene and traditional culture, there will also be plenty of comforts that Gorontalo lacked.

Finally, as if Yogya weren't enough of a destination in itself, it's located very close to some other pretty spectacular places. To the west of the city lies the huge ninth century Buddhist temple of Borobudur that was unearthed only in 1815 after being quietly buried under volcanic ash for centuries. To the east are the ninth century Hindu temples of Prambanan. To the north is the mighty Merapi volcano, which garnered the following description in LP:

Few of Southeast Asia's volcanoes are as evocative, or as destructive, as Gunung Merapi (Fire Mountain). Towering 2911 m over Yogyakarta, Borobudur and Prambanan, this immense Fujiesque cone is a threatening, disturbing presence for thousands. The volcano has erupted dozens of times over the past century and some observers have theorized that it was even responsible for the mysterious evacuation of Borobudur and the collapse of the old Mataram kingdom during the eleventh century.

Lovely thought, huh? Locals routinely make offerings to appease the gods of the volcano as well as to the Queen of the South Seas who reigns over the Indian Ocean about an hour south of Yogya. The ocean waters here are reputedly dangerous but swimming is possible in protected fresh water pools and hot springs.

Overall, from my housing to my job to the availability of international cuisine to the lure of ancient temples and raging ocean swells, I think I will enjoy this new posting very much. I'm ready for this next chapter to begin.


  1. I very much enjoyed reading ( even re-reading ) all your blog entries from last year, and I'm looking forward to keeping up with everything that happens to you this coming year. I'll do my best to contribute in kind, though I expect that Palembang and IAIN will offer a very different set of experiences to write about.

  2. I can't wait to read about your experiences this year!

  3. Nice, Jules. I'm sooo coming to visit ;)

  4. What a fun post to start off your second year! I love the interspersed quotes from Lonely Planet. I'm so excited to follow your Indo adventures as they continue in Yogya. ...I woke up this morning from another scuba diving dream. :-)

  5. I am crying reading this. Right now the consensus is they might put a cat in my house, since it's made of wood there are holes EVERWHERE, including under the doors to the outside. You don't know if they have cat shampoo or flea dip here in Indo, do you? I also found out that a small pot in the corner of my kitchen (which I have avoided so far, is actually the litter box of the cat that usually there. It is not empty. Good times. Good times.