Saturday, April 4, 2009

Borobudur, Indonesia

Yesterday we went to Borobudur, Indonesia’s largest Buddhist temple. Impressive, huge and detailed as it was, something was missing.

Our trip was as members of a herd of tourists – not our usual way of experiencing a temple. The ship docked in Semerang and Borobudur is a significant drive away so we thought that if we went on our own that it was entirely possible that we’d get back late and would miss the ship so we took a Holland American excursion. If anyone travels in an excursion, they are guaranteed that the ship will not leave without them so it wasn’t the excursion we took as much as the sense of guaranteed return.

Along the way we passed some million dollar photos, photos kept out of our camera by speed and a bus window. The horse drawn carts were super. Some horses advertised their presence in silver and leather finery while others had brightly colored carts and others were work-a-day plain.

There were people slaving away under conical straw hats in the mercilessly large, hot rice paddies. Women planted seedlings or pulled weeds and men pushed what might be called hand tractors but looked like long, homemade roto-tillers. The rice fields themselves were patchworks of glistening, brown water or fields of green or brown rectangles whose lines were drawn by grassy burms where barefoot farmers lugged hoes or bundles of leaves. Bamboo sticks along the sides of plots supported long beans and occasional trees added their own brand of green.

Rice, by the way, is about 50 cents per kilo for the good stuff and it is eaten 3 times a day by everyone. The rice farmers grow white and red rice as well as white or black sticky rice. Some own the land and some share crop. There are also people who share bulls and other animals. One person buys the animal and the other cares for it until it is mature. They share the sale price of the animal or the sale price of what it may create such as milk.

In cities groups of children waited for transportation or walked together in animated groups. The younger children wore red shorts or skirts and white shirts. Middle school children were defined by dark blue and white and high school students by gray and white. Unlike Australia’s these uniforms did not include hats though the sun and heat here accost the body with even less mercy.

There were motorcycles with families of 4 or rolled carpets or huge bales or boxes that dwarfed their drivers. Trucks full of water buffalo and bicycle powered carts all begged to be captured in pixels but the camera couldn’t work fast enough or focus through the dirty window.

Another missed photo that I so wish I had is one of the police dolls. I don’t know what they are called but at some rotaries, or traffic circles or roundabouts, there were concrete, life-sized traffic officers painted in appropriate colors and tirelessly at attention.

Speaking of police, we had a police escort for the whole trip. There were 5 buses in our convoy and a police cruiser with blaring siren led the way. At all major intersections, police stoped traffic so our convoy could travel uninhibited. If the right lane was more open than the left, the convoy just went in that lane. The rest of the cars, trucks and motorcycles were at our mercy. How the people in the car or in the first bus tolerated the hours of siren, I cannot imagine.

Onboard the bus our guide talked endlessly about life in Samerang. He is Catholic and is married to a Catholic woman. His wife was Moslem but her parents sent her to a Catholic school and she converted. He said that the government insists that people not marry outside their religion and said that women must be at least 20 and men at least 24 in order to marry.

Churches can approve of a marriage of younger people who can have a religious marriage until they are old enough for a civil wedding. It is not allowed to live together without being married by one institution or the other and if a woman gets pregnant then she gets married.

The man pays the woman’s family a dowry and it seemed that a middle class dowry was about 500,000 to 1,000,000 Rupiah ($50-$100 US). The bride’s family could use part or all of that money for the wedding celebration which might include having people witness the wedding ceremony and then having a meal or might just be a party after the ceremony. There might be bands or singers at the cerebration or the guests might come to the bride’s home in small, staggered groups for an hour or two.

The guide said that every Indonesian must have a religion. It is not allowed to say that they have no religion because that might mean that they are communists and that’s not allowed.

The temple at Borbudur rises as a huge mound in a field with nicely kept gardens but it’s just there by itself. There are no long walkways with guardians on either side that allow the sense of grandeur to grow as one marches toward the temple. There are no auxiliary temples or mahouts with elephants. Rather than quiet conversation in small groups there are loud speakers and harsh city sounds that convey more of a sense of Disneyland than of worship.

That may be the real difference. Nobody seemed to be there in order to pray. There were no prayer cloths tied around trees and it didn’t feel that candles or incense had ever burned there. The literature compared the t

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