Last week I went to Borobudur, a Buddhist temple, also abandoned, also damaged in the 2006 earthquake. Unlike Prambanan, however, this temple is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, and thus is very well-maintained. There are signs against smoking, signs against “scratching,” and workers literally pulling weeds out from between stones.
The trip was a field trip with my language school; I went along with a teacher and three Japanese students. I’d never met them before, so we went through the usual greetings and explanations of our lives. They were better at Indonesian than I, so of course I got flustered and started mixing up words, but that was all right. They were all very, very excited to go to Borobudur and talked about it in very rapid Indonesian, meaning I could just nod and smile. Nevertheless, it was a bit exhausting trying to match their enthusiasm.
Siddhartha Gautama’s life is pictured in carvings on all six levels of the temple. My teacher took us around the first level, narrating some of the scenes. I’ve found that, for the most part, if my teacher is talking right to me I can understand almost everything he or she says. If I’m talking to someone on the street, I can understand maybe fifty percent of the conversation, depending on the situation. If people are talking to each other, my understanding drops considerably. So since it was my teacher doing the talking, my understanding was pretty high.
That would be Siddhartha seeing a sick man. There are many, many more carvings like this, including people fighting elephants and people looking wizened and vaguely Chinese.
The top level of the temple, representing heaven, has seventy-two stupas, each with a statue of Buddha inside of them. There are various circuits of the temple that you can make, either around the bottom or around the stupas, all while silent. If you do this, you’ll have good fortune. Now, though, access to the stupas is closed off, so if you want good fortune you have to walk around the bottom. We didn’t do this.
We did stop to take more photos. The Japanese students wanted to take one of us all jumping, so we tried several times, much to the amusement of the local tourists. None of them worked very well, but they seemed pleased with the effort.