Monthly Archives: February 2008

Borobudur: Icon of Indonesia

Posted by on February 29, 2008

Moon over Borobudur

Moon over Borobudur

Iconic symbols are a theme I will be referring to often. For example, when you think of Paris, what image comes to mind? Probably the Eiffel Tower. Rome? The Colosseum. London? Big Ben. New York, LA, San Fransisco? The Statue of Liberty, the Hollywood Sign, and the Golden Gate Bridge.

I can go on and on about how certain places have certain images associated with them.

Sometimes the image isn’t of an object or a building. If you think of Argentina, you think of people doing the tango or of gauchos.

What comes to mind when you think of Indonesia? Unless you live there or have visited there, my guess is it isn’t a good image. It is probably one of earthquakes, landslides or tsunamis.

I would like to suggest, however, a new (actually quite old) iconic image for Indonesia: Borobudur

Borobudur and Prambanan have not achieved the level fame of a Taj Mahal or the Great Pyramids, but they probably should be on the short list of the great, ancient places of the world.

It was difficult to get the entire structure in my camera, even with a wide angle lens.

It was difficult to get the entire structure in my camera, even with a wide angle lens.

Borobudur is a Buddhist temple in central Java which dates to the year 800. Prior to the introduction of Islam in the 1500’s, Hinduism and Buddhism were the predominant religions in Java. Borobudur was constructed during the Srivijaya Empire which covered all of Java, Sumatra, peninsular Malaysia, and coastal areas of Borneo.

It is labeled as the largest single Buddhist temple in the world. Many people think that Angkor Wat is, but that is technically a temple complex. Borobudur is larger than any one temple in Angkor Wat.

The temple was lost for hundreds of years, buried in volcanic ash and covered in forest growth. It was only during the brief period which the British ruled Java (1806-1811) when Sir Thomas Raffles re-discovered Borobudur. Being covered in ash for that long probably preserved the temple from thieves and earthquakes. The Indonesian government commissioned an expansive restoration of the temple in the 1980s and it is in relatively good condition considering its age. (It should be noted that the temple was never really “lost” to locals. Local legends always knew it existed, it is just that no one ever bothered to excavate it. it should also be pointed out that much of the archeology on Java was done during the brief British control of the islands, where as the Dutch controlled it for hundreds of years and did very little.)

Bas Relief

Bas Relief

The architecture of the temple is quite clever and isn’t readily apparent. The temple is built in tiers. The traditional way to go up to the top of the temple is to climb up and walk around each level in a clockwise direction, so the reliefs are on your right. The major divisions of the temple represent parts of the human body (head, body, and feet). Moreover, it was later found to be built in a 9:6:4 ratio, which is used in other Buddhist temples in Asia. In the 90s it was discovered that two other nearby Buddhist temples were in a straight line with Borobudur, making the construction of the temple even more impressive. There is also evidence that there may have been a lake near the temple which was filled with ash in an ancient volcanic eruption.

Near the top of the structure are many bell shaped objects called stupas. They contain statues of sitting Buddhas. There is one grand stupa at the top center of the building which does not have a statue inside.

Me and the teachers

Me and the teachers

My trip to Borobudur started out at 4:30am. I had signed up for the sunrise trip and I was the first person the tour van picked up. In addition to seeing the sunrise, if you arrive early you will not have nearly as many vendors trying to sell you stuff. The size of the vendor area seemed many times the size of the parking lot. Everyone seemed to be selling the exact same things. I’m not sure how anyone was able to make a living selling stuff.

I had a bunch of students walking up to me and asking me questions in English. Everyone also wanted to get their photo taken with me (something which happened to me all over Indonesia). It turned out they were there for an English class trip so they could practice speaking English. I was able strike up a conversation with their teachers. They said that Borobudur used to be packed with foreign tourists. Since the 2002 Bali bombing, hardly any foreigners come to Java anymore. Now you will see mostly domestic tourists at Borobudur. That is really a shame because Borobudur and neighboring Prambanan are really the two standout attractions in Indonesia.

Well, This Sucks

Posted by on February 28, 2008

It is now February 29 and my bank card is valid until the end of the day. My parents sent my new card to me about two weeks ago and it still hasn’t arrived. If it doesn’t show up in the afternoon mail in a few hours, I am going to be really in a pickle.

I went and extended the stay in my room until Wednesday. I did this because my card is still good so I figure it is safer to reserve more than I need so I can cancel if my card arrives. If it doesn’t arrive, I’m good until then. I’m also going to take out as much cash as I can today.

If it doesn’t arrive, I’m going to have to contact the bank and see if they can send me a new card via FedEx or something. My ability to use PayPal will also go away.

This is really the one scenario I’ve really tried to avoid my entire trip. You can usually deal with most things so long as you have access to your money.

The thing is, if I have my bank send a new card, I know, in the bottom of my heart, that the card sent by my parents will show up tomorrow. That is just the way these things work.

I should rename this site to the “Sitting in a Room in Melbourne Travel Blog”. It would be a more accurate representation of my recent travels.

The Dark Side of Traveling

Posted by on February 27, 2008

I get a lot of comments about my site that are like: “wow. what your doing is amazing. I wish I could do that”. Indeed, traveling is pretty nice. If it wasn’t, I wouldn’t be doing it. I’ve been able to see things, go places, and meet people that most people would never do in their lifetimes.

However, as glamorous as it seems, there is a dark side to traveling. The side you never think of that you have deal with on a daily basis when you are out on the road.

  • Body odor. Have you ever had to sit next to someone for a long period of time who had some horrendous B.O.? Often times, that guy is me. It isn’t as if I don’t shower every day. I do. I’m usually pretty paranoid about smelling bad. Back home, I would usually shower twice a day. The fact is, I only have a very small supply of clothing and I’ve spent a lot of time in places where you pretty much sweat all day. Even if I smell good, my clothes doesn’t and you can’t really wash clothes every day on the road.
  • Being stuck. I’m writing this in Melbourne. I’ve been here for it seems like forever trying to take care of paperwork. Until I get everything take care of, I can’t really leave. I’ve experienced this in the Pacific as well. I was stuck on Samoa for a week because of flight schedules. There isn’t much you can do about it but deal with it.
  • Being rushed. When you aren’t being stuck, you are often times rushed due to flight schedules. I only got to spend three days on Pohnpei, Micronesia. I wish I could have stayed there longer. Weather cut my visit to South Korea short. I got rained out on my visit to Tanna Island, Vanuatu.
  • Not knowing anyone. Yes you meet new people on the road, but they do sort of blend together. Everyone from the UK under the age of 23 is sort of the same person to me now. Almost everyone seems to fit into classification I’ve seen before: the young couple traveling, the group of girls traveling, the group of guys traveling, the guy traveling by himself. (I am not immune from the rule). Most of the people you meet have been to the same places, just in different order. The standard UK gap year trip seems to be Thailand, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, LA, New York. They may toss in some side trips to Hong Kong and take a train to Angkor Wat, but for the most part, the trips are all pretty similar. In Australia I’m seeing the “European here to work for six months”.
  • Rapid depreciation of stuff. Things tend to fall apart faster on the road than they do when you are at home. My spiffy MacBook Pro laptop which is less than a year old is really showing its age. The screen is dirty. The keyboard is dirty. The metal parts are scratched up. It works fine, but it is aging fast. My camera bag has tears in it. My clothes has stains which I will never get out. I’ve lost two hats, had a pair of sandals rip on me and crushed my prescription sunglasses. The effect of these things gets magnified when you only have a bag of stuff to your name.

Twiddling My Thumbs

Posted by on February 27, 2008

I’m still in Melbourne. My debit card expires on February 29, which is tomorrow. My parents sent my new card to me about two weeks ago and it still hasn’t arrived. If it doesn’t show up in the next two days, I’m really going to be up a creek without a paddle. I will have to contact my bank and have another card sent overnight, or as fast as something can get to Australia.

Until I can get that taken care of, I’m pretty much stuck here. I can’t really rent a car and I cant leave this facility because this is where the card is supposed to show up.

I’ve had a stomach ache all day. I’m trying to improve my diet. I’ve eaten a lot of fruit the last day and I think my body is adjusting. This is definitely the part of traveling which is no fun. The “not traveling” part.

Also, let me make my periodic shout out to vote for my site in the Bloggers Choice Awards. I’m up against a guy in the best travel blog category who runs a hostel in Buenos Aires. He gets his customers to vote for him, so I have an uphill battle. I’ve been in first place for a while, but he’s pulled up even.