JAVA AND MADURA
It is hard not to think of Java as the centre of Indonesia - hard, especially, for the Javanese. They have not been, throughout history, the most warlike, the most creative, the most political or intellectual, the best businessmen or sailors or writers or mystics or chess-players. But they have been consistently good in all areas, and in one way they have exceeded all competitors by far. They have increased their own numbers at an amazing speed. It might be fair, too, to say that they have always been the best farmers. They certainly have, from the point of view of geography, economics and politics, the best island. They would add that of the larger islands it is also the most beautiful, and the quarter of me that is Javanese agrees with them.
Madura, Java's companion on the north-east coast, is smaller, lower, emptier, poorer, altogether less glamorous. It still has much charm and interest. The two islands together inevitably share much of their history, though Madurese princes maintained their independence until the middle of the eighteenth century and often intervened quite effectively in Javanese dynastic wars. When royal courts were the centres of gravity for all wealth and ambition, Madura could compete with Javanese sultanates on fairly equal terms. Today, when big cities are the magnets, Madura has lapsed into rural peace. But it is economically still active, and the building of a bridge to link it with Surabaya may have startling effects. I am not sure how I feel about this bridge.
Java is full of contrasts. Being long and narrow, it has always tended to split into regions, corresponding very roughly with the modern provinces of West, Central and East Java. West Java, or Sunda, has always been the most distinct of these, with its own language and customs. On the north-west coast the old kingdom of Banten (where bantam chickens originally came from) has given way to the city of Jakarta. An equally important split has been geographic, between the areas north and south of the volcanic backbone. The north, by and large, is a wide coastal plain, liable to flooding, with large river-mouths and good harbours for shipping in the South China Sea. The south is a narrower, drier strip, which often disappears altogether where the mountains drop straight into the colder water of the Indonesian Ocean. Here you feel an evening chill in June and July from the Australian winter. There are few harbours. Dangerous currents are ruled by Nyai Loro Kidul, the Queen of the South Sea who has had an enigmatic relationship with so many Javanese rulers. Much of the romance, the strangeness of Java is gathered in the south, and comes to a sharp focus in the town of Yogyakarta.
Like Bali, Java has succeeded by being adaptable, by learning fast whatever the outside world wanted to teach it. Once a lesson was learned, it was never forgotten, and Javanese history could almost be reconstructed by digging an archaeological trench through the Javanese psyche and examining the layers: animist, Buddhist, Hindu, Indian, Chinese, Moslem, Christian, Portuguese, Dutch, English, American, nationalist, socialist, capitalist... Only two layers seem to have been totally expunged from the memory, Japanese and communist. Both are associated with nightmares of recent history, though in fact the Japanese have not only been given a second chance but are now welcomed as the bringers of consumer goods and even of Japanese food, which is becoming very popular in Jakarta and will no doubt make its way elsewhere.
The Dutch left a well-developed rail network in Java. As lords of everything they surveyed, they laid their tracks straight into the centre of every town, regardless of how many level crossings held up the traffic on main streets as a result. The principal routes still run, and the line south from Jakarta's Gambir station has been raised on stilts so that the city's ever-increasing traffic can run beneath it. Alas, the massive steam locomotives that Krupp built before the war have been replaced by diesels, but the standard of passenger services has improved greatly in the past twenty years. We travelled in comfort from Gambir to Bandung, with the benefits of air conditioning and colour television, though not, I am glad to say, of karaoke. The single fare, first class, was about £8 for the three-hour journey. Our bags were carried from street level and put aboard the train by an efficient, well-organised porter. However, the system lost points for having all the station escalators out of order; I had to climb the equivalent of four storeys up the stairs, with a knee painfully twisted after a fall. The windows of the train were as dirty as most British Rail windows, and although the food on board was excellent and cheap, they had no bottled drinking water.
The journey begins with a long crawl through some of the most wretched suburbs of Jakarta. Then there is an hour's crossing of the plain, heavily industrialised in places but still with a lot of good rice land in between. Place names in West Java often begin with the Sundanese word ci, which means water or a stream, and there is a great deal of water here, as you realise if your flight makes its approach to Jakarta during the rainy season. After Cikampek the train starts to climb, crossing deep ravines by what must be spectacular-looking bridges. We climbed to such good effect that we were soon in soggy grey clouds, and Bandung in mid-afternoon could have been Manchester.
The centre of Bandung has changed much less than those of other Indonesian cities, although its suburbs now cover a vastly greater area than they used to. There are only a few tower blocks. From the fifth floor of the Grand Hotel Preanger we could still see, when the weather cleared, how the town lies in a saucer among the surrounding hills; the climate is cool but the hills trap the moist air and the Dutch regarded it as an unhealthy place. However, the wealth of the area, especially its tea plantations, drew them compulsively, and they built two hotels that were among the finest in South-East Asia in the 1930s, as well as a shopping street, Braga, that was something of a legend. The hotels, Savoy Homann and Preanger, still stand; the first has been sensitively renovated, keeping its rather striking façade, and the Preanger has been virtually rebuilt. The shops in Braga have not, and seem rather ordinary today, though the famous old teahouse is still in business. The rebuilding of the Preanger is an unmixed blessing, except perhaps for the room-boy who took a handful of Australian dollar bills out of my handbag while I was talking to the Chef downstairs. The thief was nailed by the printout from the electronic lock on the door of our room. All the money was handed back to me that evening; when I asked the Duty Manager how he had done it, he smiled darkly and said, "We have our methods." I imagine that the room-boy was told: "Here's the evidence. If you give back the money, we'll merely sack you. If you go on saying you didn't do it, we'll hand the case over to the police." I felt sorry for the boy's family, but perhaps he will go straight in future, now that doors have memories.
Bandung, "the Paris of Java" as someone once unhelpfully called it, has always had a reputation for good food, and it is still perhaps the best town in Indonesia for a gourmet to be stranded in, outside Jakarta. Three restaurants in particular remain in my own, unelectronic, memory. Two are very close to the Preanger - I see no reason to take a long taxi ride when there is good food within walking distance. We had lunch on our first day at Sindang Reret, whose name means "Drop in and see us": a large room, cooled by many fans in the high ceiling, with a sensible menu that ranges quite widely over Indonesian and foreign food without forgetting that there are many good Sundanese dishes. For supper on our last night in Bandung, we walked up the street to the Rasa Bakery and had a few simple things, very well cooked and served, and bought snacks for our long journey next day. A couple of small eating houses as good as these in every town in Indonesia would transform the food scene, and this will happen, in time; Bandung, after all, is large and prosperous, and small country towns can hardly be expected to support places just yet where you may pay serious money - up to £3 or £4 - for one meal.
Kabayan, in the north-west quarter of town, is a restaurant which seems to have outgrown its original indoor space and taken over its own front garden, where little pavilions are artfully constructed in bamboo with thatched roofs, each sheltering a table for anything up to a dozen people. This is a sensible arrangement in a tropical climate, and the food here is particularly good - explicitly and consciously Sundanese, and very well cooked.
Bandung is the home of the largest of the BPLP, the state-run hotel and catering schools; there are others in Medan, Bali and Ujung Pandang. In addition there are about 80 private hotel schools, with about 100,000 students altogether. As a cookery teacher, I naturally wanted to make contact with the BPLP, and one morning we found ourselves being carried in a taxi up the steep hill to the school. Shortly afterwards I was in a lecture theatre, addressing 60 student chefs on the future of Indonesian food and restaurants, inside the country and abroad - the sort of opportunity that comes all too rarely. Will my audience, at a class reunion in thirty years' time, remember that afternoon as a seminal one in their careers? Possibly not, but at least they listened politely. They also invited us to have lunch in the main dining hall. Each day a team of five or six students takes its turn at producing lunch and dinner from a cuisine it has researched in the rather modest resources of the school library; today it was the turn of the United States, the room was decorated with American flags and emblems, we had turkey and pumpkin pie, we sat on the top table with the Principal and senior staff, and of course we had to make little speeches afterwards - Indonesians love speeches, or at any rate feel that no occasion is complete without several.
The premises of the hotel school were hung with banners, changing almost every day, wishing good luck to a group that were taking exams, or aggressively declaring the superiority of another group's cooking. Belonging to a group, even if it is a very temporary one, is important here; people don't like being alone. The whole place fizzed quietly, and seemed to achieve a high professional standard on slim resources. The staff included a team of English language teachers, because no one's career is going to make much progress without a working knowledge of English. Indonesian business people often prefer to use English amongst themselves, because it allows them to say what they think and avoid the social niceties and taboos of Indonesian. The students' banners were mostly in English, good English on the whole but some of them certainly frank.
SURABAYA AND MADURA
The journey by road across Java brought back many memories of trips we had made long ago, in days when travel was mildly adventurous. It is still just as colourful, once you leave the toll roads that link Jakarta and Bandung; on the margins of these, you see only strange triffid-like creatures who turn out to be men, heavily muffled and masked, cutting the grass verges with strimmers. From the Bandung by-pass, rich rice-fields stretch away to the hills where, a day or two earlier, we had watched veils of fog blowing through the tea plantations. It was good to be on the road again, under a blue sky.
On this occasion, there had just been a cabinet shake-up and a new Vice-President had been appointed, so at every set of traffic lights the street vendors' ranks were swollen by the sellers of large portraits and illustrated charts of the new cabinet, essential for the walls of every office. We wondered how motorists in London would react if they were offered pictures of their political leaders while they waited for the lights to change. At key intersections traffic discipline was kept by lifesize concrete cops, sometimes female, curvaceous and scowling, but more often male, glossily painted, standing stiffly at ease and wearing the most amazingly, cripplingly tight trousers. Policemen in Indonesia do have very smart uniforms - it is about the only legitimate perk they can expect - and the trousers are, indeed, cut very tight, but whether the plaster images reflect official dress policy or are just a sardonic comment by the artist, one cannot tell.
A few kilometres out, we passed through a village totally dedicated to the sale of firearms and air rifles, the only such place I ever saw in Indonesia. Muchtar, our driver, said they were for hunting wild pig or the babirusa that is hunted with dogs in Sumatra; but people will shoot anything they are not expressly forbidden to, even some of the roadside signs announcing that we were approaching a mosque had been peppered with shot. Local warung signs, usually not shot at, advertised peuyeum, a name that illustrates my point about tortured Sundanese vowel sounds; this is fermented cassava, similar to what is known as tape (tapay) in other parts of Java, though tape is usually made from sticky rice. In front of us, for mile after mile along twisting narrow roads, a crowded country bus lurched, across its rear window a single word arranged in an arc of fancy silver capitals: DROSOPHILA.
We crossed the line into Central Java. Borders and border markers are very important here; even the most undistinguished kampung in a big city has its bamboo archway across the lane that leads into it, carrying its name and some memento of national success. Such arches are often renewed or repainted on Independence Day, 17 August, and the memento is then a cryptic HUT ke-47 - "47th anniversary" - 17-VIII-45. Borders of provinces have to have something much more elaborate, and that of Central Java is marked, in the valley of the Julang river, by a colossal white statue of Prince Diponegoro, a Javanese freedom fighter in the 1820s and long since officially recognised as an Indonesian nationalist hero. Diponegoro's position is presumably secure, but lesser heroes can still be demoted; when we reached Magelang, where my parents settled in the 1950s and stayed for the rest of their lives, I found their old house but not their old address. The street that had been Jalan Sultan Agungan is now Jalan Diponegoro. Sultan Agung was, as his name tells us, a great man, but evidently not great enough.
We broke our journey eastwards by staying for several days at Yogyakarta - I shall say more about that later. We departed early on a Sunday morning, passing a crowd of smartly-dressed pilgrims who were setting off to Mecca on haj; there had been trouble in previous years because new-found prosperity had greatly increased the numbers who wanted to travel, and this time the authorities were determined there should be ample seats in coaches and aeroplanes for everybody. "Orang kaya," our driver muttered darkly, "rich people." I remembered an old man in Pontianak who had made some joke about haji borjois that he thought was extremely funny. The Prophet expressly stated that his followers should only make the haj if they could afford to; he could hardly be expected to foresee Moslems in the unknown east buying tickets on 747s. It will be a pity if the white cap of a haji becomes a mark of social distinction, although I can well understand that anyone who has undergone the rigours, and sometimes perils, of the journey might feel rather pleased at having survived and come home.
The road east out of Yogya towards Solo is of course the tourist road to Prambanan and the whole rich area of temple remains; villages like Kalasan were supporting these temples from the wealth of their rice fields twelve hundred years ago. The famous temple complex is that of Loro Jonggrang, the Slender Virgin, actually a rather terrifying image of Durga, the consort of Siva. Siva occupies the main chamber of the temple, but Loro Jonggrang, about whom many tales are told, is the real genius of the place. As we were wandering around, I met two old ladies from an outlying village who asked me, in the highest of High Javanese, which was her temple. It would have been gross discourtesy for me to reply in less formal language, and after thirty years of disuse my Javanese was not very confident at any level; but I directed them as best I could, and they seemed pleased. "You can go inside the temple and see Loro Jonggrang," I added chattily. In fact, the Virgin's breasts and belly have been well polished by the hands of visitors and devotees. The two old ladies looked terrified at the thought of confronting her. I think they just wanted to leave offerings on the steps outside her door.
All along the road to Solo there are fine views of Merapi, the volcano that dominates this area, depositing on it from time to time large quantities of ash. The silhouette of Merapi, with its outthrust eastern shoulder, is deeply imprinted on the subconscious of anyone who has lived in Yogya, so that even when it is hidden in cloud or haze, as nowadays it almost always is, you are still aware of its presence. It is an element in one of the world's most ancient and mysterious countrysides, just as Gunung Agung is in that of Bali. Soon after you leave Solo, the mystery evaporates, though there are great things yet to be seen. As if to remind us that we were passing into new territory, our driver was very amused by the signs on several warung that we passed, advertising sate kelinci. Imagine! These people! They eat rabbits!
Aristocratic as Merapi is, the traveller eastward has to get over, or round, a much larger obstacle, a dormant volcano called Lawu. Our driver had agreed to take us over it by the mountain road through Tawangmanggu, up a hill which our old car had refused in 1963 but which the Colt L300 took in its stride. One of the last, and strangest, of Javanese temples is to be found a few kilometres north of this road, at Candi Sukuh. The road itself is poisoned by diesel buses, painted forbidding matt black, that serve the high villages; they struggle upwards with clapped-out engines and too many passengers, spewing smoke but at least doing something useful. The erection of enormous advertising hoardings at some of the most beautiful viewpoints does not even have this excuse. But these are, so far, minor irritations on a road that offers some of the finest scenery in Java. Health-conscious young Indonesians are taking up cycling, and it was impressive to see quite of a number of them, and the occasional European couple, crossing the mountain complete with bulging packs. At the top of the ridge we were in dense cloud for a few minutes, the cloud that clings to the mountain side even on a fine day; we were almost 1400 metres above the sea, and, on the map, only about 5 kilometres from the summit of Lawu, another 2000 metres above us. To the south, a lower summit, called, according to the map, Gunung Kukusan, though whether because it is the shape of a rice steaming basket turned upside down, or because vapour sometimes rises from it, I do not know.
On the way down we were overtaken by hunger and a collective longing for strong black kopi tubruk, so we pulled up outside a coffee shop and were taken through to the back of it, to a terrace overlooking a miniature valley with a stream and half-a-dozen houses clinging to the opposite hillside. Further along the terrace were small guest-rooms with their names, Zinnia, Hortensia, painted over the doors. Below us, every possible surface on the steep slope had been planted with flowering shrubs. Our driver and his assistant disliked the place on sight because it was shut away, quiet and empty, but we thought it was idyllic - this shows how much of my upbringing has faded - and we ordered coffee and rempeyek ad lib for everyone, which cost us fully 15p per head. Kopi tubruk is simply ordinary ground coffee with hot water poured on it, as if it was instant coffee. The grounds sink to the bottom after a few minutes, and it is, I think, the best way to get the pure original coffee taste.
The mountain road rejoins the main valley route at Maospati, and after that the way to Surabaya is through the lowlands, hot, often crowded, with long straight tree-shaded roads that might remind you of the south of France. Trucks swayed dangerously past us on their way to the coast; we saw two upside down in a field. Even in the outskirts of Surabaya, we now and then passed a laden gerobak, a cart drawn by two white oxen, usually carrying fresh-cut green bamboo. In golden late afternoon sunlight, we visited the rather skimpy relics of Java's greatest imperial capital, Majapahit. At dusk we came safely through the Sunday evening rush hour and were delivered to the Hyatt Regency, where we were soon attempting to interview the Food and Beverage Manager in the bar. The noise of music made conversation impossible, and even our survival among so much thunder seemed to be in doubt, so we exchanged notes making an appointment for tomorrow.
Surabaya has a long history, but wears it extremely lightly. There is very little to show for all the triumph and disaster, and even the places we thought we remembered from our own youth had vanished almost without trace. This town exists solely for business. It is of course the only practical gateway to East Java and Madura, unless you travel by road to Malang, but there is nothing here to detain the transient visitor, certainly not the food. Even the shopping malls look desolate and unkept, acres of grey tiles swept only by the wind. The stalls at the open-air food centre in Taman Kayoon sell overpriced, unappetising dishes, including one which made even me ill, and I thought I was pretty well proof against bugs in food. For the serious businessman there may be many good things here, but the local airline office made the only serious mistake that we suffered during all our domestic Indonesian flights - luckily we spotted it in time and were able to sort it out. One way and another, it was always a relief to get back to the hotel, where the management team were extremely helpful. I was able to have long talks with the Resident Manager, the F & B Manager, the Executive Chef and the Executive Assistant Chef - two Indonesians and two Europeans. The Assistant Chef, I Made Budiarsa Pendit or Pak Pendit for short, was of course Balinese, and he and his boss, Gerd Sankowski, insisted on preparing a special dinner for us of local dishes. This was an excellent meal, the tempe and tahu dishes being particularly good.
Gerd also recommended a restaurant about five minutes' walk from the hotel, Rumah Makan Ria, which we ate at once or twice and found very satisfactory. The five-minute walk was an adventurous one, over shattered pavements, along the edge of a busy street, and then across an open sewer and through a car park; but the food was, as Michelin would say, worth the trouble.
East Java is very beautiful, and includes the famous ascent of Gunung Bromo across the sand sea. I am told this has become a more comfortable experience than it was when we climbed Bromo in 1963, though you still have to rise before dawn if you want to see the place at its best. I always preferred sauntering through the gardens of hill resorts like Tretes, or exploring temples like those at Panataran or Singosari. These were built fairly late in the great days of Majapahit, and some of the smaller ones were never even finished - square blocks of stone project above doorways, still waiting to be carved into the grinning monster-heads that should have guarded the sanctuary. It was from here, after the collapse of the last Hindu-Javanese kingdoms, that the traditions and holy books and pusaka, the symbols of power, were taken to Bali. On this trip we had no time to revisit such places, but I was determined we would at least see Madura, and a car, driver and guide were duly chartered, at what I thought a scandalously high price, for a day's outing.
The ferry crossing from Surabaya harbour takes about forty minutes. There is a little fleet of these square-ended car ferries nipping back and forth all day and probably all night, always jammed with trucks, cars, Hondas, pushbikes, baggage and people. Sellers of mineral water, fruit, peanuts and newspapers push their way through, and as the ferry pulls away from the jetty throw themselves and their unsold stock across the widening gap of water. Bootblacks stay on the boat, so I suppose they find customers have less sales resistance here than on land. There are excellent views of the hills to the west of Surabaya, of the old Dutch Harbourmaster's office, and of the enormous Bogosari flour mills, said to be one of the largest flour-milling complexes in the world. And this in a country where thirty years ago bread and wheat flour were almost unknown! I remembered what a Canadian businessman in Jakarta had told me about the company that owns the mills: "They said to the government, we'll mill all the flour you want, absolutely free of charge, if you let us keep the screenings. The government said yes, it sounded like a very good offer. So the company keeps the screenings to sell all over the world for animal feed - it's like they had a bar of solid gold extruding from that mill day and night."
Madura, when you get there, seems deceptively peaceful and rural. There is a narrow-gauge railway track at the side of the road; I thought it was an old sugar railway (the Dutch built miles of track to bring cane from the plantations to the factories) but our guide, Riady, said it had carried passengers, drawn by a steam locomotive, until 1975. Why don't they get all these old steam railways running again? What an attraction that would be for railway buffs, wanting to outdo Paul Theroux!
Riady was convinced, for some reason, that I was looking for recipes for jamu, the traditional medicines of Java and Madura, concoctions made of roots and herbs. He took us to the home of Ibu Haji Solecha, whose husband, also a haji, is a tailor; he was working hard, cutting material for a suit, in the front part of the house when we arrived. She showed me samples of her jamu, made up in little packets, like tea. She also gave me a typed list of her product range. Every item on it seemed to be an aphrodisiac of one kind or another. She told us she had been on the haj, to Mecca and Medina, not just once but twice, and she and her husband are now starting to save again for another trip. She wouldn't give me any recipes for the jamu, because these, obviously, are her trade secrets.
But meanwhile she was putting more and more food in front of us, and I did persuade her to give me the secret of the delicious kueh mete, the cashew-nut cookies that we were eating. She told me they were made with tepung jagung, maize flour, because maize or sweet corn is the staple of Madura. I suggested, however, when she explained how the dough is made with oil, that the recipe must be a Middle Eastern one, and I guessed that she was using wheat flour. She neither confirmed nor denied this, but smiled broadly and agreed that this is not a traditional Madurese kueh. She herself, I thought, or a parent or grandparent, might have come from one of the Arab countries, but this is true of many Indonesians; I have Arab blood myself. Whether this charming couple would be regarded as haji borjois, I don't know, but I must say that their prosperous-looking home was just about the only one I saw which did not have a wide-screen stereo colour TV set as its principal piece of furniture.
Riady was determined to take us next to the local museum, which was in the alun-alun, the central square. It was housed in an attractive little colonial-style mini-mansion, with slender pillars and a two-wheel brass cannon by the porch. It was guarded by affable soldiers, who deeply regretted that the man with the key had not reported for duty that day. While we waited for him, we inspected the cannon, which looked very nineteenth-century but bore the name and arms of "Tjakraningrat de II", the formidable prince of Madura whose family gave the Javanese rulers so much trouble in the 1700s. He was, at least nominally, an ally of the Dutch, so perhaps this really was a cannon they had given him, though it looked more suitable for firing ceremonial salutes than for serious warfare.
The man with the key did not come, so we looked at the map and suggested we should go to the royal tombs at Arosbaya, a few kilometres away. Just outside Bangkalan is one of the most astonishingly ornate mosques I have ever seen, recently built and presumably funded in the usual way, by stopping passing cars and asking for subscriptions. The tombs are quite different, down a very quiet side road: you climb a flight of shallow stone steps, pass through a gapura or lych-gate with square brick pillars and a tiled roof, and find yourself in a little garden. Beyond a second gate are the tombs, crowded together under two pyramid roofs held up on tubby pillars, with some lesser tombs in the open air, weathered like Yorkshire stone. The sky was darkening with rain clouds as we left our shoes in a covered place and were joined by a very old man in the white cap of a haji and what was perhaps the T-shirt of a previous visitor. He led us to the most important of all these many tombs, that of Ratu Ibu, the mother of the formidable Cakraningrat II; it was draped in white and white petals were scattered over it. The old man sat cross-legged before it and intoned a long, haunting Arabic prayer while the rain began to thunder on the roof. Riady pointed to a feature in the formalised decoration of the upright stone slabs that made a kind of protective fence around the tombs: each one had a small parallelogram, filled with wavy lines or cross-hatching. "It's fish skin," he said. "It's to remind the people here that they depend on fish for their living." Maybe he was right, but I thought it could just as well be a field of rice.
After quite a good lunch in a pleasant little restaurant, Riady announced that he was going to take us to visit his parents. Off we went down a maze of dirt roads, the red earth slippery after so much rain. We passed a series of bulging circular limekilns, and overtook lines of village women carrying enamel bowls of rice on their heads to a wedding feast. The house turned out to be a smart brick-built bungalow in what would have been a green haven of peace and quiet if there had not been three or four mosques in the neighbourhood competing in their amplified calls to prayer. We chatted, drank very good coffee and ate yeasty, sweetish tape made from sticky rice. The mosque loudspeakers in due course fell silent, and it seemed that Riady's family had found the good life in this unhurried place. However, they told us they were about to move. This is the very spot where the new bridge from Surabaya, to be built with capital from Japan, Germany and China, will make its landfall in Madura. Fortunately the family have a piece of land elsewhere on which they can rebuild. Compensation, as usual for small people caught up in development projects, is far below the value of what is lost.
Tired after a long day on the road, we entered Yogya like travellers who are home at last. This was the town where we had lived, studied, worked, and begun our married life together. We had come back in 1981 and again in 1987. All we had to do now was to cross to the east side of town to find the Ambarrukmo Palace Hotel, along streets that were old friends.
Within ten minutes we were utterly lost, and it took us almost an hour of driving in circles, making U-turns and asking directions, to reach our destination. Our confidence never quite recovered, though we realised the old Yogya is still there, under the proliferating new buildings and new traffic schemes. It is still a fascinating town for tourists, and the tour operators have fully realised its potential. The last enchantments of the eighteenth century, which Yogya retained richly in the 1960s, have not entirely faded, and in a tropical republic the eighteenth century is as remote as the middle ages in Europe. What especially delighted us was to find how many old friends are still there: older, greyer (the men, that is, for no Indonesian woman allows herself to be seen with grey hair until she is at least in her mid-eighties); much more senior, though, for the university teachers, not a great deal richer; but still having had, on the whole, more prosperous lives than they could have hoped for when they were twenty.
The food scene, likewise, has remained fundamentally the same, though today it is far more varied. Street food still flourishes, especially at night, though I have to admit that my years abroad have softened me and I no longer care to buy cooked food whose age and ingredients are doubtful. The successful fried chicken places, such as mBok Berek and Nyonya Hartini, which were just starting up in the sixties, are still flourishing, though when I invited some friends to eat with us at Nyonya Hartini's they said, a little wistfully, "Wouldn't you rather have Kentucky Fried?" A few of the Chinese restaurants we went to in our courting days are still in their old premises, and probably still offering the same menus. Indonesian restaurants, almost unknown in the old days and very rudimentary if you could find one, are becoming rather smart. The best is probably Pesta Perak, which has good food in pleasant, open surroundings with a good gamelan orchestra, waiters in Javanese dress and all the trimmings; a buffet dinner here at about £4 is very good value for a foreigner, and within the reach of middle-class Yogya citizens. Within the kraton area that surrounds the Sultan's palace a few princely families have opened their houses to the public and offer lunch or dinner at around US$20 a head. My impression here was that the food was all right, but ordinary.
An old friend who looked after us most carefully in Yogya was Ibu Etty Soeliantoro. She introduced us to various people, arranged our trip to the gudeg factory and other visits, and organised the meeting at which I addressed the university's alumni association on the future of Indonesian food. She took us to one of the best warung soto in town, where for about 30p you can have a plate of really hot, meaty soup with enough meaty chicken bones and vegetables to feed you for half a day. Why can't soto in hotel restaurants, where you pay five or ten times the price, be as good as this? This was the sort of question I tactfully hinted at in my address to the alumni, but I did not get any direct answer.
We devoted a day or two to out-of-town trips to places we had been familiar with in the past. We could hardly avoid going to Borobudur, and walked around it in a crushing midday heat that felt as if it could bleach stone. Thirty years ago, this place was practically deserted. Twelve years ago, it was packed solid, with souvenir stalls and blaring music almost to the lowest terraces of the monument. Today, the man-made holy mountain of stone stands serenely in a broad, unshady stretch of parkland, with the humps of hills on the south-western horizon and three great volcanic cones standing guard in the haze. I had forgotten how lively and vivid are the stone panels, carved with scenes from the Buddha's life, that line the apparently endless passageways of each of the lower levels; they are funny, touching, dramatic, devout in turn. I had also forgotten how convivial many of the pictures are. This life may be illusion, but that's no reason not to enjoy its imaginary pleasures, food and drink in particular.
Yogya was planned as a royal and therefore sacred city, its axis lying north-south midway between the mountain tops (in this case, the crater of Merapi) and the sea. We went north first, to the hill resort of Kaliurang, a thousand metres up in the volcano's foothills. Like everywhere else, it is more visited and more built on than it was, but it is still a quiet spot, even on a Saturday morning. Like all tourist spots, it now has a gate across the approach road and a guard who charges you entrance money. We found a spick-and-span coffee shop for elevenses, and were intrigued by the list of drinks on the wall. It included Kopi Brontak and Hozey-hozey. These, the proprietor told us, are milky coffee and milky hot chocolate, with the yolk of an egg beaten in - "sebagai jamu," he added, "as a pick-me-up."
Then south, to the coast at Parangtritis, a spot regarded with some anxiety by us students because the currents make swimming dangerous, there are sharks off the south coast of Java, and this is an area of potent magic: the caves have sheltered hermits, and under the waves is the palace of Nyai Loro Kidul, Queen of the South Sea, who has several times played a significant part in Javanese history. Having started life as a princess who lost her lover, she is now apt to carry young men down to the bottom of the sea. Parangtritis used to be almost inaccessible, its enormous beach stretching away into the distance as it did on the first day of creation. You can still, today, recapture something of this isolation if you are willing to walk a good long way from the village, but the village itself is an example of what market forces can do to a place when there is little capital and no vision. It is mean and dirty, living a random, hand-to-mouth existence. The best one can say is that it is still small-scale, and seems quiet and safe, despite the beggars and the drivers of sand-buggies touting for custom. There is a great deal of litter, which blows about the sand endlessly. Ibu Etty had told us how the Lombok beaches were being bought up by international hotel chains and the locals pushed out, but the exploitation of Parangtritis by local people seems to have only one good point - the beach itself is still open to everyone.
As for the gudeg factory - that was a real piece of Javanese culinary and social tradition. Gudeg is not necessarily a breakfast dish, you can eat it at any time of day, but from now on I shall always associate it with the hour of 5.30 a.m.
That was the time of our appointment to visit the premises of a gudeg producer, situated on the edge of the campus of Gajah Mada University, where I myself had been a student long ago. The location was not a matter of chance; most of the gudeg went to nearby foodstalls which catered for students. The kitchen was high and dark, lit only by two or three dim bulbs and by the wood fires on which woks and saucepans were bubbling away. A dozen women were busy at these, tasting to ensure that the contents of each were seasoned and cooked just right, stirring the chicken joints as they fried, then taking them from the hot oil and piling them in baskets. Others assembled the portions of gudeg, placing a spoonful of rice on a banana-leaf square, then a small leaf "plate" to separate the rice from the meat and sauce that were placed on top; finally folding the ends of the packet and pinning them shut with long bamboo pins. A powerfully-built young woman carried a basket of cooked rice on her hip, as if it were a baby; her bare arm was wreathed in the steam from the rice but she seemed untroubled by the heat. Smoke and steam drifted up into the roof and escaped under the eaves. Two women were engaged all the time in sweeping the floor, clearing up rubbish and chasing away chickens, which wandered unconcernedly about, unaware that they were next week's raw materials. Small children ran through the room with towels round their middles and tooth brushes grasped in their hands, or set off for school in smart uniforms with lunchpacks on their backs bearing Mickey Mouse logos. The only man visible was washing his clothes in a tank of water. What looked at first sight like a stew of blackness and disorder revealed itself as scrupulously professional, clean, unflustered and good-tempered.
At the centre of this activity sat Madam herself, or Ibu, "Mother", as we all respectfully addressed her, the proprietor of this thriving business. She was a woman in her sixties, wearing faded Javanese dress and a knitted woollen cap in case the dawn air was chilly. She chatted to us in Javanese as she cut banana-leaf rounds with a large knife, from time to time tasting samples brought to her by her assistants. By 5.30 a.m. all the gudeg for breakfast and lunch had been delivered or collected, and the staff were preparing the ingredients for the mid-afternoon and evening sessions. We were each given large portions to eat on the spot, much more food than even I could manage to finish. Portions this big retail for Rp 1,000 (35 pence / US 50 cents); Ibu said that smaller portions, with less fine ingredients, could be had by students for as little as Rp 100. I found the flavours and textures of the gudeg complex and intriguing, a little too sweet for me but every bit as good as I recalled it from the old days.