Shadow Puppets

Note: I haven’t researched the history and culture behind Indonesian Shadow Puppets. What I written here is what was told to me by a tour guide and may not be wholly correct.

The shadow puppet is an Indonesian performance art that dates back several generations. This classic art form consists of an 8 hour long puppet show that is acted out by a single puppet master who plays all the roles. The puppeteers assistant will change puppets in and out from an inventory of puppets as the show progresses.

Each puppet is usually made of bison skin, although you can also find wooden versions as well. The bison skin is very tough and resembles a flexible plastic… it reminds me of a soft plastic notebook cover. The bison skin is cut and carved into a character. One of the tools used to do the carving started life as a bicycle spoke, which was cut and filed to become a gouge. The head, body, and legs of the puppet are one piece with a stick attached. The arms have two pivot points (shoulder and elbow) and each hand has a stick attached as well. The puppet is also very finely painted. Every shape, color, and pattern is symbolic of a character or an element of life.

The characters and stories are all derived from the ancient Hindu texts of the Ramayana, with some Indonesian modifications. There are a few hundred stories, each lasting 8 hours as a show. The puppetmaster has memorized all the stories and makes different voices for each of the characters. The stories are instructions on how to live life.

The irony of the puppet show is that these very beautiful and intricately carved and painted puppets is hidden behind a screen during the performance. The reason for this is symbolic: it invites the viewer to seek truth. The other irony is that the stories are all told in Javanese. This is the original language of Indonesia, which has been replaced by A new Indonesian language. Most people in Indonesia do not speak Javanese and therefore do not understand the puppet show stories.


Batik Cloth

A local artisan applying dye to the cloth where a pattern has already been drawn in wax.

Batik is a style cloth printing where wax is applied and the the cloth is dyed to make patterns.  Each region of Indonesia is known for its specific style or pattern of batik cloth.

I visited a small store where they make the local batik patterns by hand and sell the cloth which you can then take to your taylor to have whatever you like made out of it.

The process starts with cloth, usually cotton or a bamboo cloth.  The bamboo cloth is usually more expensive and also a little more rough in texture.  A pattern is then either drawn into the cloth with wax or stamped.  Once the wax has cooled, dye is then hand applied to the cloth.  The wax in the cloth acts as a barrier keeping the dye in areas.  Then the wax is removed from the cloth and the finished product is a beautiful batik cloth, ready to be made into a fancy shirt.

Batik comes in a wide variety of colors and patters, each one is unique.

There are also other, cool things you can do by using different consistencies of wax.  For example, one of the patterns that the store owner is fond of (and with good reason – it was pretty cool) was making the ink flow into the cloth to give it a cracked or shattered look.  This is done by coating an area in a hard wax and then once it is try, crumpling the cloth, causing the wax to crack.  When the ink is applied, it flows into the cracks in the wax.

More pictures of batik being made.

Video of applying dye to cloth.

Mujizat Masih Ada

Translated: “Miracles Still Exist”

Most people in Indonesia follow Islam. An interesting tidbit about history is that the country has had missionaries from (in order) Hinduism, Christianity, and most recently Islam. In the small town where Daniel and Paige live, there are several mosques very close by and 5 times a day at approximately the same time, they will all sound the call to prayer (I’ll discuss this more in another post).

So on Monday and Tuesday we would occasionally hear about some big Christian event that would be on Wednesday night. We weren’t sure what to expect – we saw the poster but there wasn’t enough to really be able to guess what we would see.

Much to our surprise, it was a bit outdoor concert and sermon… in Indonesian. Paige and Daniel understood it, but I was a bit in the dark. Still, the event was a surprise, especially because it was so big. I’m guessing there were a couple of thousand people. The ministry that put the show on was an Indonesian televangelist. The video below shows clips of some of the songs, just so you get a feel for what their worship music sounds like.

Photos from the event.


Impressions of Indonesia

Kuala Lumpur Airport

My very first impression of southeast asia was during 3 hour layover at Kuala Lumpur Airport enroute from Tokyo to Surabaya.  I realized on the way out that I didn’t actually see much of the airport since I arrived at the Air Asia terminal and stayed in the secure area to catch my next flight.  My very first impression was really not that great.

The building itself, in retrospect, was fine.  It was, however, my first experience with a bathrooms, and it was… not good.  They had both the squat toilets and western toilets, but everything in the bathroom was wet and it smelled.  It was rather like a bathroom at a dirty gas station.  I opted to wait until I was on the plane.  What made it worse, was that I came from the US where the bathrooms are ok, to Japan, where everything was super clean, to Kuala Lumpur…

On the way back, I had a longer layover in Kuala Lumpur and left the airport, so had a chance to see more of it.  It turns out to be quite nice and the bathrooms in other areas of the airport were much better – on par with the US.  I’m not sure what was so special about the terminal bathroom that it was as gross as it was.


I want to start by making it clear that this paragraph isn’t a statement of good or bad but probably speaks more to where priorities are.  It seems like a lot of things in Indonesia were either in disrepair or unfinished and not knowing the full history makes it a bit difficult to figure out what is going on in the background.  For example, at Bromo Volcano and and the Madakaripura falls, there are cement structures that were likely built several decades ago but now look like ruins from lack of maintenance.   The structures are still functional , so it could be a case of ‘if it isn’t broken…’

Another example is the kitchen sink where Daniel and Paige live – it’s a pipe sticking out of the wall at a fun angle with a plastic spigot at the end.  While not totally aesthetic, it is perfectly functional.  The rest of the house is really very nice.  So it would see that maybe there isn’t as much need or desire to spend money on anything but the practical in the kitchen, but its more important for the front rooms where guests would spend more time to look very nice.

All the floors in the house were polished stone and looked beautiful.  Something that would be expensive here but relatively common over there.

Call to Prayer

Indonesia is a mostly Islamic country, so there are small mosques all over.  Each one has a big horn speaker designed for volume and not sound quality that is used 5 times a day for the Adhan, or call to prayer.  Overall, 4 or the 5 calls to prayer didn’t really bother me as much as the 1 that was somewhere in the vicinity of 5 in the morning.  The calls to prayer have a very spooky or eerie sound that is a little bit hard to overlook.  At one point, we all had gone for a walk out among the rice fields when the call to prayer started.  It sounded like several ghosts carrying warnings.

Video of Adhan (the video part isn’t important – it’s really about the sound).


This is worth brining up because it’s probably the most personal of the drastic cultural differences between the US and Indonesia.  Between most countries (Australia, Japan, Europe), there are subtle difference in the bathroom, but nothing that requires more than a slight change to get accustomed to).  In Indonesia, however, the bathrooms are entirely different.

Where in most countries there is just one bathroom for the toilet and bath/shower (or maybe you have a second room within the bathroom for the toilet), in Indonesia there is a toilet room and a bathing room, usually next to each other, but very separate much like bedrooms are separate.  The toilet room will have a porcelain ‘squatty potty’ and a faucet with a bucket or perhaps a big water tank and no toilet paper.  You use the toilet and then wash with water.  The other room is for bathing and will have another tank of water and space for you to basically undress, and pour water on yourself to bathe.

Daniel had rigged a shower in another part of the house, so I never really bother to try bathing in the traditional sense.  For me, the hardest part about using the bathroom was squatting.  Locals who do this all the time have a much easier time, but I found my muscles would get tired or cramped from squatting, so I would have to stand to rest for a moment.  By the end of the week, I was getting used to squatting and didn’t have as much of an issue.

Video of toilet demonstration.

Air Asia

I flew on American Airlines to Tokyo and on Quantas from Sydney back to DFW, both of which were good flights.  All the flights in between (Tokyo-Kuala Lumpur-Surabaya, Jogjakarta-Kuala Lumpur-Sydney) were on Air Asia

When I booked the flights, it was all on, so I thought it was all the same airline, but turned out to be more like an American Airlines verses American Eagle type arrangement.

For the Tokyo-Kuala Lumpur and Kuala Lumpur-Sydney segments, I few on Air Asia X, which was a very pleasant experience.  The plane was a big Airbus, with 9 seats across in three groups of three, except in the back.  I didn’t know this before and believe the same is true on the larger Boeing planes, but the back of the plane narrows to a point, so it changes to a 2-3-2 seating for several rows and there seems to be more room until you get to the very last rows.  So this experience was much like any other major airline.

The flights from Kuala Lumpur to Surabaya and from Jogjakarta to Kuala Lumpur was a much different experience.  This was on Air Asia (note the lack of an X) on a much smaller plane that seated 6 across in two groups of 3, much like a 737.  So this was not a big deal.  What was a big deal is that there was significantly less leg room in this plane.  The seats were closer together to the point where my knees were almost touching the seat in front of me.  It was a bit claustrophobic.  Fortunately I was exhausted and slept most of the way, so I didn’t realy notice.  Plus the flight was a short 2 hours.

I’m Tall!

I’m really not very tall, being about 5′ 7″, but that would seem to be tall for an Indonesian.  I thought it was a pretty interesting experience to be able to actually see over most everyone’s head and I’m quite jealous of people who are taller than me in the US.  That might explain why the seats on Air Asia were so close together – Indonesians and Malaysians don’t need as much room.  Or they just wanted to get as many people in as possible.

Doing Laundry

I didn’t take very many clothes with me.  My goal was to pack as lightly as possible and do laundry when I needed to.

Daniel and Paige have a washer in their house, but it wasn’t a normal washing machine in the sense of what I was accustomed to.  This turned out to be an interactive experience.

An interactive laundry experience.

The design of the washer is called “twin tub.”  This particular model is made by Panasonic.  The benefits of this design is low overall cost and probably lower operating costs.   If you lived in Indonesia and wanted to buy one, most of them cost about $100-130.  It turned out that I found a similarly designed washing machine aboard the HMAS Vampire in Austraila.

So, as I said before, this was an interactive washing machine.  Doing laundry went something like this:

  • Put clothes in the left drum (note that there are two drums – more on that later)
  • Set the second dial to wash.
  • Take hose and fill drum with water.  (You can also attach the hose to the water port, but this same hose was for showering).
  • Add laundry soap.
  • Set timer which starts the wash cycle, maximum is 15 minutes.
  • When done, set second dial to drain to drain the water.
  • Set back to wash, fill drum for rinse cycle.
  • Set timer
  • When done, move clothes to spin drum and set spin timer.
  • When done, remove clothes and hang out to dry.

Riding Bikes

Paige and Daniel are forbidden from ride motorcycles or scooters by the Peace Corps, so we rode bicycles, walked and took buses, which was pretty fun.  The only drawback was the busses – they fly by and always seem to be closer to you than, say, the trucks.  Riding a motorized two wheeler looks like it would be quite an adventure, especially when you watch how everyone squeezes in together.


School Visits

One Monday, I went with Paige to her school and on Tuesday went with Daniel to his. In all the classes, I was a part of “Show and Tell.” Since the kids are all learning English, here was a chance for them to talk to someone they haven’t met before and practice their conversational skills.

The conversations were all pretty similar – where do you live, are you married, do you have kids, what are your hobbies… Some of the kids got really excited with I would ask them what I should do in Indonesia. They liked that conversation. We also talked about their hobbies and favorite music. In the video below, you’ll see clips from their classroom assignments. In one, they had to complete a story and create a storyboard to go with it. The other project is to write and present a conversation that contains some sort of issue and then a resolution. There are also samples of the kids singing their favorite songs from Korean boy/girl bands and then also some of the latest dance moves (which turned out to be from Zumba, so I guess it’s more exercise than dance… 🙂 ).

Update: So the dance moves are actually from a Korean Rapper name Psy from his song Ganganam Style (click to watch his video).  Paige and Daniel mentioned that Korean pop music is really popular in Indonesia, and so it would seem.  What makes it more interesting, though, is that this particular rapper seems to be a world wide sensation.  So here’s how I found out about this… I went camping over Thanksgiving and was telling my friends about my trip and specifically were talking about the school visit.  I don’t remember if I mimicked a bit of the horse riding part of the dance or maybe just talked about it, but my friends daughter immediately knew what I was talking about and chimed in “Oh!  That’s Ganganam Style!”  My exact reaction to that was “that’s what now?”  Then I heard about Psy on the radio news the other day as having the move views for a music video at 44 million or something like that outranking Justin Bieber.

Photos from my classroom visits.


Madakaripura Waterfall

I’ll start with a link to more information from Indonesia’s Official Tourism Website.  This website refers to the waterfalls as ‘surreal.’  I don’t think surreal is a good description, and I’m not sure that’s really what they meant.  The waterfalls are beautiful.  It’s not a big or expansive waterfall like Niagara or Livingstone.  What it is, though, is several small waterfalls, creating a cool cavern like valley.  A very refreshing spot on a hot day to just relax and enjoy the cold, fresh water as it cascades down along several paths through the lush green foliage.  It was an easy hike into the fall, but very wet past a certain point.  Waterproof your camera and anything else that shouldn’t get wet.

From the trail head, it’s about a 30 minute hike along the river that the falls feed into.  As you get closer to the waterfalls, you find yourself in a narrow canyon surrounded by falling water.  There are actually several small waterfalls as you get to the beginning of the river where the main waterfall is.  At the very end is a nice little swimming hole surrounded by rocks.  The canyon walls covered in bright green foliage all the way to the top with water streaming through in several places.

After a long morning of hiking up and down at Bromo, this was a refreshing way to spend the afternoon.

Link to more pictures.

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Bromo Volcano

I arrived in Surabaya in the afternoon.  The first order of business was to have some lunch and then head off to the Bromo Volcano.  We would arrive at the volcano in the evening and find a place to stay for the night.  If you’re looking for luxury accommodations, there is a very nice hotel near the volcano called the Java Banana.  We stayed with a local who rented out some space in his house for us.  This was a lot of fun as it was a chance to really get to know some Indonesian culture.  The evening was uneventful.  We got some dinner at a nearby warung (small cafe) and then spent the evening talking with our hosts (well, they talked, I listened).

The next morning… early in the morning… we left for the volcano in a Landcruiser.  We hired the driver and Landcruiser the night before from the Bromo Jeep club (Almost all Landcruisers).  He picked us up at 3:30 am and we first drove up to the trailhead where you hike to a lookout point to see the sunrise.  Beautiful view and a great way to start the day.

This is actually a very popular thing to do – there were quite a lot of people and many Landcruisers going up to the lookout point.  In addition, there were some small snackshops setup along the hike up.  I can only imagine how early they had to get up to get to their spot with all the stuff they would have to sell.  If you’re feeling a bit lazy, out of shape, or just don’t want to hike, there are several people with horses waiting to give you a ride up to the lookout point.  These, by the way, are very small horses.  An average American would stand much taller…

After the lookout point, we hiked back down and got in the Landcruiser to go to our next point of interest, the volcano itself.  Once we got to the volcano and parked, we got out to hike the rest of the way.  The hike to the volcano is across an expanse of very fine sand that was dark gray and very cool to the touch (after all, it was still quite early in the morning).  As you hike across the desert, there, again, are several people with horses ready to take you to the foot of the volcano.  There is also a Hindu temple half way to the foot of the volcano called Pura Luhur Poten.  We didn’t go in to take a look, but instead continued hiking to the food of the volcano, and once there, had to climb a flight of stairs to the lip of the volcano.  At the lip, you can look down into the volcano and see the hot, sulfery water down below.

You do have to be careful at Boromo – the staircase is covered with fine sand and I’m sure it doesn’t take long for the stairs to be covered again after a cleaning.  So walk carefully.  At the top of the volcano, I have to admit to being a little bit nervous as there were quite a few people up there, not a lot of room, and the hand rail wasn’t as much a safety device as it is a illusion of safety.  Still, beautiful and worth the hike!

View full photo album.

More info from Wikitravel.

The biggest shock was that after all this activity, it wasn’t even noon yet, so the Landcruiser took us back to town, we got in to the car and headed off to the Madakaripura waterfalls.

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Indonesia: First Things First

The very first thing a visitor to Indonesia needs to know is how to use the toilet.  It’s not a seat, like in the US or in Europe.  It’s a porcelain hole in the ground.  Daniel and Heru demonstrate Indonesian toilet technique in the below video.

If you’re convinced that the squatting position is the way to go then you can get in on the movement:

Another demonstration video on the benefits of squatting… it’s hard to watch with a straight face.