Monday, July 20, 2009


By: Dr Yeoh Seng Guan

17 July 2009

This year’s study trip faced a quick succession of issues that threatened to extinguish its annual coming-of-being. The most serious were the global outbreak of the A (H1N1) virus (in early May) and the Indonesian presidential elections (in early July). Both invoked the unsettling specter of chaos and danger, and questioned the wisdom of persevering with the trip. Early on, another worry was the slow uptake of places which I suspect would have been quite different if touristic Bali was the advertised destination instead.

At the end of it all, I believe the remarkably colorful and graceful city of Yogyakarta fulfilled the promise of providing a portal into the multi-textured complexity of Javanese culture and society as evident in the many stories, videos and photos featured in this blog. If this particular trip has awakened and/or sustained an appreciation of how communities create an array of meanings and relationships in order to live meaningfully for this cohort of travelers, the key motif of these trips has been kept intact.

As in previous years, a venture of this nature would not be possible without the goodwill and help of a number of key people. Firstly, my appreciation goes to Dr Aris Arif Mundayat, the Director of Pusat Studi Sosial Asia Tenggara, Universitas Gadjah Mada, for readily agreeing to be the host institution and for providing various leads. Grateful thanks are also due to the many individuals, civil society groups, and kampong (village) residents for their generous sharing of knowledge and experiences. Without the graceful and tireless assistance of our student guides from Universitas Gadjah Mada in so many areas – Nana, Ike, Adi, Ambar and Arum - this trip would have been clueless. Lastly, a special word of gratitude goes to Nurina Malinda and her sister Diah Martengsari for all the months of background logistical support. Nurina is a veteran traveler of the study trips to the Philippines (2007) and Cambodia (2008), and her enthusiasm for this particular trip to her home city was infectious.

This is the fifth year in which the “In Search of” study trips have unfolded in the diverse human settlements of Southeast Asia – Penang (Malaysia), Bangkok (Thailand), Baguio & Sagada (Philippines), and Siem Reap (Cambodia). In comparative terms, this year’s cohort of enthusiastic and capable student travelers hailing from different countries is the most extensive – Australia, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. Admittedly, at times this proved to be a formidable multicultural challenge requiring patience and forbearance for all concerned. But I am also happy to report that they rose up well to the occasion. The sight of young men and women from different cultural backgrounds striving together to successfully tackle a common task placed at their feet despite all the odds gives one cause for hopeful optimism. For the first time, this year also saw the participation of two alumni and former travelers, Aron and Eunice, and their presence enlivened the motto of Monash University, ancora imparo – “I am still learning”.

These memories of Yogyakarta will live on

WRITER'S PROFILE: Dr Yeoh Seng Guan has been scheming study trips for students of Monash University’s School of Arts and Social Sciences since 2004. In his free time, he continues to research, film, and write on urban subalterns in Southeast Asia.

Accommodating the Accommodation

By: Eunice Phang Poh Ee

17 July 2009

Kevin Copeland: I'm gonna have a BF!
Marcus Copeland: Oh, my God, she's gonna have a b*tch fit!
Hotel clerk: No, don't d-d-d-don't have a, a, a BF now.
Kevin Copeland: I wanna speak to your supervisor! Better yet, I'm gonna write a letter!
Marcus Copeland: You, are in big, trouble!
Kevin Copeland: Dear Mister Royal Hampton. I am a white woman, in America….

(A scene where Kevin appropriated the “power and superiority” by disguising as a white woman and make demands he never enjoyed as a black man. )

The movie White Chicks crossed my mind the moment I stepped into our hotel. This is no Royal Hampton. It’s THE Hotel Puspo Nugroho. The hotel that was so unbearable that it gave the fellow pathfinders a sense of togetherness. For once, there’s something that everyone agreed upon, the accommodation could have been better…..WAYYYY better. Maybe this is Dr Yeoh’s little trick to make us bond.

So how should I start describing Puspo Nugroho, I guess the fact that I have no pictures of that place to show in this article meant a lot – staying there are not memories I’d want to keep. The smell of the dingy room, the cockroaches that lurk in the toilet, the grimes that stained the sink and the blanket that we used oh-so-reluctantly are just traumatic to us city kids. Nonetheless, we survived without a scratch, just a few miserable nights and the lust for our sweet, sweet bed at home.

Puspo Nugroho halls

In fact, the hotel WAS supposed to be way better but things just did not go according to Dr Yeoh’s plan. Following him and Aron one night through the streets of Losmen and Sosrowijaya, I found paradise. There’s a reason for Dr Yeoh’s eagerness to show us the hotel we were supposed to stay in – Setia Kawan, an artsy-fartsy place perfect for us artsy-fartsy arts students. As he skillfully led us through the alleys which he knows like the back of his hand (from all the hotel scouting), he explained why we were stuck in the dingy hotel instead of THIS. Ta-da!

multiple views inside Setia Kawan losmen, all retrieved from google

The room rates began at Rp.80,000 per night, the environment was fabulous and there were Internet services near the lobby, perfect for the editorial team. To top it all off, the rooms were air-conditioned (not as environmentally friendly like Puspo).

Then we stopped by Bladok , equally posh with a private swimming pool and a tad higher price.

And why you wonder did we not get a chance to stay at these places? One common thing, the place is flooded with White chicks and dudes only. Aaah, this is the perfect case study for post-colonialism and white supremacy. The hotel owners (colonized locals) still hold on to the perception that the Whites (Western colonizers) are of superior status and class, more affluent and the mere association of their hotels being the Whites’ preferred choice is a status symbol of quality and prestige. As Dr Yeoh mentioned, if only he had known earlier that there are 3 Australian students on board this trip, he would have used them to bait the hotel owners to take us in as “international” tourists instead of a bunch of students from Malaysia. It’s not being manipulative but just framing the truth to suit the local context, let no one take this to heart.

Despite their long winded reasons for not accommodating us, Dr Yeoh persisted with letters, showing the previous works and blogs as well as the association to the “prestigious” Monash University in Australia. Alas, the hotel owners stood strong on reserving their rooms for “the others”. Tough luck for the non- whites. (Note they do not discriminate Asians and if you come in a small group of 2-4 they would definitely welcome you. It’s just that there are “special priorities”).

Hence, that explains the story of our miserable stay in Puspo Nugroho, the last resort, literally. Nevertheless, these days should end as postmodernism rise where race and nationalities shall inhibit no more.

Okay, enough of whining about the hotels. Puspo Nugroho is not that bad after all, they have a very nice member of staff and that is the key factor that gave us fellow pathfinders a common hate subject, excuse me, a common ground. And no, none of us threw a fit but did our best to accommodate and survive the place as well as we can….just like any well-mannered kid would. We survived because we are Monash material.

WRITER'S PROFILE: Eunice graduated from Monash two years ago and is now working for L'Oreal as a management trainee for Shu Uemura. She enjoys hiking and is one of the most enthusiastic for hiking Mount Merapi, but changed her mind after realizing that hiking there would require much preparations.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Editor-in-Chief Closing Entry

By: Siti Nur Farhanah

17 July 2009

Visits to 'DD Net', the cybercafe that is a short walk away from our hotel, Hotel Puspo Nugroho, has been a routine activity of all the travelers present on this trip. Of course, this was facilitated by the fact that each traveler had receive a certain amount of allowance fund our trips to the cybercafe. Ensuring that the blog was kept updated became the responsibility not only of the editorial team but involved the active participation of every traveler as well. Where one might expect lots of dramatic inquisitions as 19 different individuals, including our pathfinder, Dr Yeoh Seng Guan and chaperon, Melanie Chalil, set out in a foreign land, it is safe to say that quite the reverse happened. Quoting from the words of fellow editor, Rachel Lai, “You don't even have to bug people to get their work done”. The responsible and self-motivated nature of the team on this study trip has certainly made the lives of the editorial board members much easier.

Prior to the trip, a schedule of deadlines had been drawn up for fellow travelers and it is certainly a relief to see that minimal changes needed to be made to this schedule once we were at our destination to maintain the up keeping of the blog. Also, there were several travelers who contributed additional articles on top of the topics that they have been assigned to in the trip. It was just great to see so much enthusiasm and responsibility exercised by the fellow travelers. Travelers adhered to the editorial guidelines provided and obeyed the instructions and tasks meted out by the editorial team. To keep readers on par with the activities that the travelers were involved whilst in Yogyakarta, Kemi and Paulista ensured that the 'Twitter' section of our blog was constantly updated, informing readers about our current whereabouts.

twittering our journey

According to another fellow editor, Shazwan, it was also interesting to read the various blog articles given the many different styles of writing adopted by the writers. It was a great experience to have read the views of each writer after attending a particular session and how the writers worked closely with the photographers, Dominique and Natasha, to get great shots of certain places, people or activities relevant to their individual topics.

Joanna Molloy, a member of the video team admitted that she has learnt a lot from being a part of this study trip. Despite the long hours of editing that the video team had to endure under the leadership of Jane Barraclough, it was time well-spent. She described their work process as being one that was “intense but fun”, putting together various clips for us to remember this trip by.

Where the process of maintaining the progress of the blog is not one devoid of errors as another fellow editor, Marina Tan mentioned, everyone managed to work together in order to ensure that any difficulties faced would be eliminated quickly. As the editor-in-chief, I would say that feedback from our pathfinder and fellow travelers have been tended to rather promptly. Our blog web mistresses, Kemi and Abeer were quick to attend to any changes that needed to be made to improve the quality of the blog when informed by the editorial team.

The constant communication between all members of the editorial team has helped to facilitate this learning experience in the city of Jogjakarta. The delegation of tasks has helped to ensure that almost every area of the blog is tended to with great effort and attention. We also appreciate the articles contributed by our student guides, Nana, Adi, Ambar, Ike and Arum. Working with a pool of creative and responsible individuals has been a BLAST and certainly a pleasure. I guess it is safe to say that the balance between work and play has been adequately maintained by the entire team of travelers here.

On behalf of all the travelers of this study trip to Yogyakarta, Indonesia, I thank all readers who have been following us on our journey in search of Yogyakarta through the articles. Also, I can't help but stress the integral role each traveler has played in order to ensure that deadlines are met and how much pride they have taken in their work. All in all, the experience of being the editor-in-chief has been filled with great pleasure, anxiety and urgency, putting together schedules and praying that everything gets done on time. It has been fabulous race course filled with memorable moments within and outside of our work stations within the world of our warnet (cybercafe) 'DD Net'.

Yours truly,



Farhanah Bagharib

WRITER'S PROFILE: Farhanah Bagharib aka Nana is currently doing her Honours in Monash University Malaysia. She graduated the previous year with a degree in Bachelor of Communcations. Nana is a citizen of Singapore with immediate ancestry from Yemen in the state of Hadramawt. Being extremely interested in the workings of the feminist theory, Nana's Honours thesis revolves around the concept of feminism in Iranian cinema. Nana is SUPER picky with food but as long as there's fast food, she's all good.

The Importance of Numbers - A Reflection of Our Journey in Yogyakarta.

By Melanie A. Chalil

17 July 2009

It started with 17...

My experience here in Yogya centers around numbers, literally. Prior to the trip, my duties involved calling up our 17 wonderful participants (it was then 18) and recording their dates of birth and emergency contacts. When I got here, however, it started with daily head-counts, making sure that no one was left behind for our informative sessions and amazing sightseeing trips. Having participated in last year's study trip to Siem Reap, the group this time had a fair share of relatively new faces and in getting to know the city, I ended up getting to know these individuals.

Then plus 5....

Our wonderful student guides are more than just guides. I have to say, they became our eyes and ears to exploring this city. Whenever I had a question, one of them were always there to provide an explanation regarding the customs, culture and language of the Javanese people. At
tonight's farewell dinner, I realized how much I'm going to miss hearing them sing from across my room. I still remember listening to their voices the first time they practiced – I dropped by their room and said, “You guys can make money out of this”. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank Nana, Adi, Arum, Ambar and Ike – Terima kasih for being such great guides and most importantly, friends.

When you have too many zeros...

we've all become millionaires in indonesia!

I'll be the first to admit that I cannot count to save my life. I'm always the last person at the table who offers to count the check simply because I just dislike doing it. I was never a whiz at math in school and safe to say, that was one of the main reasons why I chose to study Arts. I was definitely out of my element on a daily basis whenever I had to count the cash that was given to me. Trust me, it took a really long time (especially the first few days) to get used to what is now the familiar rupiah. During the first few days of counting cash, I thought I was going crazy. All I saw were numbers. I think I even dreamt that I was counting money. So anyways, all this venting has a point to it (I am getting there). The truth is, as much as I disliked doing it, I got used to it. And now, I definitely get what Dr. Yeoh was saying about our accommodation here – making the unfamiliar familiar. So yes, I'm much better at counting money now. Of course, I have my little piece of technology to thank but I definitely get how much work goes into planning for a trip like this just by the amount of zeros I had to count.

my duty in this trip includes counting, counting and counting money

9 days and 999 statues...

The highlight of this trip for me was definitely visiting both Candi Borobudur and Prambanan. I knew very little about these temples and I desperately wanted to know about the history behind its architecture. I loved listening to the legend of Loro Jonggrang because its heartbreakingly beautiful. Also, watching the Ramayana Ballet was a refreshing change from the usual hyper-dramatic/expressive operas I love so dearly. I enjoyed every deliberate movement and although I personally think gamelan music is freaky, it doesn't fail to enchant me.

I count myself very lucky to be able to learn so much about this city in such a short span of time. Although we live near a certain tourist infested street called Malioboro, it was the sessions we attended that truly taught me about the people who live here. It is the lives of such individuals that truly inspire us and teach us to not take things for granted.

WRITER'S PROFILE: Melanie is currently writing her Honours thesis on vampire literature
and masochism. She is a mixed bag of different cultures and loves writing short stories during her free time. Melanie is also fascinated by ancient monuments and civilization. This is her first time in Indonesia and is hooked on Javanese Lulur.