Palaces, Water, and Parades

This Wednesday was a holiday to celebrate the Prophet Muhammad’s ascension to heaven. For me, this meant that I didn’t have class, which was very nice. I finished the first book of my language program Monday and started Book 2A on Tuesday. Book 2A is much harder and contains a lot more words that I don’t know. A day without trying to memorize more words that all look vaguely similar was a very welcome change.

Some of my classmates and I decided to use our day off to go to the Kraton. The Kraton is the palace of the sultan of Yogyakarta and a major tourist attraction. The grounds are rather large, with various decorative buildings and buildings dedicated to showcasing memorabilia having to do with the sultans: gifts they’ve received, possessions that they once used, and paintings of them.

Since we were in the area, we decided to go to Taman Sari too. Taman Sari is a complex built in the mid-1700’s that stopped being used around 1812. It was, essentially, an early form of a water park complete with a bathhouse and an underground river. The sultan once frequented it, but it eventually fell into disrepair and most of it has since been swallowed by the city.

As usual when trying to go to a tourist site, before even getting there we were approached by a man wanting to be our guide. He led us past some suspicious-looking signs written in French and German. They possibly advertised a restaurant, but we didn’t stop to find out. Instead, he led us to some sort of abandoned building. It was missing most of its roof and had no features that hinted at its original purpose. Judging by the number of teenagers, however, it appeared to be some sort of local hangout spot. The lack of an entrance fee, however, had me convinced that it was not the Taman Sari we were looking for.

Nevertheless, we continued to follow our guide, who led us down a flight of stairs, past an acoustic band, and through an underground tunnel. On the other side, our guide told us that he wanted to take us somewhere even better, which we took to mean that he wanted to sell us something. Thus, not completely sure where we were, we thanked him and struck out on our own.

And about thirty meters later stumbled upon what appeared to be the actual Taman Sari—we had to pay, there were tourists, and there was water. It was also much less exciting than the building our guide took us through, which—if you’ve been paying attention—you may have realized was part of the original complex as well, including the underground river on which the sultan once sailed.

Of course, at the time I had no idea what any of it was.

At any rate, satisfied that we’d found what we were looking for, we made our way to Marlioboro, a main shopping destination, to catch a taxi. As we stood at the edge of the road, however, we found not the usual semi-terrifying flow of motorbikes and cars but, instead, a parade.

The inexplicable nature of this event served as an apt metaphor for the day. We went to the Kraton, which had little in the way of explanatory signs. We went to an abandoned building and didn’t know what it was. We had vacation because of a religious holiday but were encountered a militaristic parade.

I still haven’t found out what the parade was for. Our taxi driver said it was for the birthday of the police. My host mother said if there were old people in traditional clothes, maybe it was a parade from the Kraton. There were old people in traditional clothes, but there were also people on bicycles and people in orange day-glow camouflage and tanks. My teacher at language school said it was because Indonesia’s Independence Day (August 17) is during Ramadan this year, so they moved the parade up.

All these explanations seem plausible on some level, but I don’t know enough to be able to say which is the most plausible. I’m inclined to believe my teacher, because I did see the same word they use in Malaysia for Independence Day on one banner that marched past. Still, if that’s the case, why can’t I find anything about moving Independence Day online?

In short: like so many things, including what the old lady with the watermelon said to me yesterday on the street, this remains a mystery.

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