The Lesson Yogyakarta Had Taught Me

Monday, October 17, 2016


There is, perhaps, no greater torture than the simple act of waiting. On the age-old stones of Borobudur, I looked to the east and, like a longing lover, I waited. All around me, people were milling. They clamored for space. A space, I presumed, that would make the wait worth it. It was still dark, and I wasn't sure if my staying still was because I believed I'd found the perfect waiting space, or that I was simply too tired to move.

Sleep still lingered in my eyes, and a yawn had ebbed its way to my mouth. When my mind is not engaged in convincing my limbs to work, it brings me thoughts – dark thoughts I'd prefer not to have at dawn. So I kept busy with my camera. I tried to capture what was there and what's about to be. And with this distraction, I almost missed the moment. 

Beyond the stupas, the sky started to crack. Fragile light crept like hesitant fingers longing to touch the Earth. A thick clump of clouds was in the way and the sun tried hard to shine on, but the sun will rise, whether we liked it or not, and another day will start.


It happened quickly. One moment everything was a haze, covered in a soupy darkness like ink on water; the next, you can clearly make out the looming form of Mount Merapi and the swept of forests and mountain ranges that surround what is considered the greatest Buddhist temple in the world.

Light was no longer fragile too. It illuminated the majestic structure – the nine stacked platforms topped with a circular dome. At this hour, the 2,672 relief panels and 504 Buddha statues that decorate the temple became more present, solid. And in spite of the thousands of tourists weaving their way around the stupas and the candis, Borobudur somehow retained its splendor.
what to do in yogyakarta

I bet it will come as no surprise when I say that the time spent in the temple had not been enough. We were whisked away far too quickly; herded out against our will. But when everything is over and gone, there will always be yearning. And so, that was how Borobudur became the first of the many reasons to return to Indonesia.
what to do in yogyakarta

In between that day's rising and setting of the sun was motion. Deep down, I believe, we all knew that putting one foot in front of the other – or in this case, keeping pedal – was necessary. We all needed to move forward. Hence, we were given each a bicycle.

Past rice fields and houses with terracotta roofs, we pedaled with our two-wheel rides, stopping occasionally for pictures. Halfway through, it started to drizzle. But it was only very briefly, as if the sky was only testing how we would react. 
what to do in borobudur

things to do in yogyakarta

things to do in indonesia

I was the last one to arrive at our destination. It wasn't that I was slow at pedaling or anything. I just kept pausing, for there were so many fascinating things to see in the villages of Karangrejo and Wanurejo. And as it were, I wanted more time.

The bike tour's final stop was Warung Kopi. Here, we got to try our hand at a couple of Indonesian craft: Batik and pottery.

"You're very good," our genial Batik instructor told me – out of sheer politeness, I'm sure, as my work was like an insult to the art. But I beamed with pride nonetheless. 
how to do batik

Pottery, meanwhile, is definitely not for me. As patient as the instructor was, I could see her frustration at my clumsiness. My hands are not nimble, see, and my fingers are not graceful. When I try to do it gently as advised, I ended up thoroughly demolishing my clay stupa. I guess if it's not for you, it really isn't. Eventually, my instructor took over. I was glad for it. No hard feelings there, at least on my part.
things to do in borobudur

warung kopi yogyakarta

warung kopi yogyakarta

For lunch, we drove to Pendopo Onthel Tingal in Wanurejo. Several of my companions, including me, wanted to ride the bike to there, but the sky abandoned its bridling and let out a veritable downpour. It stopped right on time as we arrived at the place, and there, we were greeted by a performance.
traditional indonesian dance

I was not hungry and was contented with just a glass of cendol and a plate of kropuk. Along with my companions, I watched dancers in interesting costumes perform the Leak'an. They were barefooted, the dancers were, and the ground was rough. It sure looked painful but the performers did not show it.
indonesian food

traditional indonesian dance

After lunch, we went back to the Royal Ambarrukmo, our hotel, to rest and freshen up. Later, we found ourselves at Ratu Boko to witness an ending.
royal ambarrukmo yogykarta

where to stay in royal ambarrukmo

The complex, named after the "Stork King", rests on a plateau and is known to be one of the best places to see the sunset.

"This became famous because a movie was shot here," shared Vindhya, a local influencer with green hair and a face so youthful you'd never believe her real age. She calls herself ibu penyu – Mother Turtle – and talking with her is always a delight. 

"It's the same in the Philippines," I said. "But usually it's not movies but TV series that make places popular."
rato buku yogyakarta

She nodded and did not ask for more details. So in silence, we crossed Ratu Boko's iconic gates and, like in Borobudur, looked for a waiting space. The place was crowded, and people did not want to relinquish their hold on the best spots. I thought that was selfish.
rato buku

Well, people may be selfish but Nature is not, and so, despite everything, the sunset was still glorious. Streaks of purple and orange cut across the sky and the world was painted in warm light. The ruins of Ratu Boko looked better at dusk. Everything looked subtle, gentle, stripped of harshness, as things tend to look at the close.  

"Dusk is the day's most blessed hour; it is the time when the spirits of darkness drift slowly down the bright domain... and the brevity of life itself is realized at last," writes F. Sionil Jose. 
rato buku yogyakarta

And just like that, daylight was gone.

Metaphors, like love, are born in moments like these. Moments when realizations come unbidden, and the connections of things and events suddenly made sense.

To the rest of the world, Borobudur stands as a metaphor for tolerance. A testament to Indonesia's accepting nature. Here is a Buddhist temple well taken care of, celebrated even, in a predominately Muslim country. There is space for all beliefs, it seems to say. And this, above else, is what makes it beautiful. But to me, Borobudur will always be a metaphor for beginnings. Among its quiet stones, I will forever remember how darkness began to lift and how the world became awash with a brand new light.

I wish this interim between Life and Death be as pleasant as that bicycle ride across those quaint villages. You are loved when you are born, they say, and you will be loved when you die; in the space between, you'd have to manage. So onward, we forge. We keep in motion to put distance from yearning, but in doing so, we also bridge the gap. And someday, we will find ourselves back at that moment that inspired us to move. Life is nothing but a grand circumnavigation after all.

Beginnings and endings are the same, see. Sunrises and sunsets are no different. If you look closely, things look the same at the start and at the end. This is what Yogyakarta had taught me.

I was told a certain phrase is used throughout Asia – something that perfectly sums up this lesson. I will end this with it, with the sincere hope that it will begin another journey:

"Same, same, but different."

You Might Also Like