Unedited Notes from a Wayang Kulit Performance

September 14-15, 2012

11:51 PM
Decision made. I’m sticking it out for the whole night. I feel tired just thinking about it.

11:55 PM
Kumbhakarno picks up his wife. I guess it makes sense because he’s so big? I would hate to be his wife.

11:58 PM
Cockroach spotted, two o’clock. Luckily it doesn’t crawl towards my bare feet.

12:04 AM
The cockroach returns. On its way home, I suppose. There’s also a pretty intense fight scene going on, but I’m unsure as to who’s fighting who.

12:06 AM
A puppet just went flying; that’s how intense this fight scene is. Someone had to go pick it up and bring it back to the dalang.

12:08 AM
There’s this one guy who’s shooting tons of arrows. Arrows flying everywhere! There’s this other guy who keeps dodging them.

Oh, I think he just died.

12:10 AM
lol, yes, I just threw a mountain on you.

Now some guy who’s painted red has come to survey the damage. He keeps saying the word “name,” or maybe I’m biased because that’s the only word I can understand.

12:12 AM
Now a green guy has entered the picture. He’s beating pretty hard on the red guy.

I’m not sure if any of these characters are important or if this is just to show the horror of war, like in the Iliad when characters are introduced and die in the same paragraph.

12:14 AM
Inexplicable horse noise.

Jenengmu sapa?” —I understood a whole sentence in Javanese!

12:17 AM
Oh, look, I threw a mountain on you too.

I might be mistaken in thinking those fan-shaped things are mountains. Although I know for a fact that they’re at least sometimes mountains.

Everyone is throwing mountains everywhere.

12:19 AM
So Kumbhakarno has apparently changed forms now that he’s made the decision to fight for Ravana. I actually don’t see the difference. He still looks like a really big puppet. Which, as I said earlier, makes sense as he is a giant.

Oh, and he’s throwing around mountains (or mountain-like objects) as well.

The monkey noises are terrifying. And they’re the good guys. …Unless this is like Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog and the good guys are actually the bad guys and vice versa?

12:24 AM
Oh, the monkeys have to make a tower in order to be as tall as Kumbhakarno. And they talk in noises! Finally something I understand.

12:25 AM
Kumbhakarno knocks over the leaning tower of monkeys.

12:27 AM
Man, Kumbhakarno rocks on the battlefield and he knows it. He just keeps picking up people and tossing them onto the ground.

12:29 AM
Sugriwa! Hanuman! …Is it bad that I only understand names?

12:30 AM
Wait, did Kumbhakarno’s nose just get cut off? Has he always looked like that? Has he always sounded like that? Oh man, he totally lost his nose! And now we have a sad song that I can only assume is mourning the loss of his nose.

12:33 AM
Oh, this is Wibisana, my newest favorite Ramayana character. He serves as a foil to Kumbhakarno, showing another way to do the right thing. Kumbhakarno agrees to fight for his country even though he doesn’t agree with Ravana’s decisions. Wibisana also doesn’t agree, but he goes to join Rama’s side. Two different paths, both equally correct in terms of dharma, or so I hear.

No idea what the two of them are discussing right now, though.

12:37 AM

12:38 AM
Oh man, Kumbhakarno just got shot. Sad song. Really sad song. Is he dying??

12:39 AM
Angry monkey horde makes horrible chittering sounds.

12:40 AM
I assume those two puppets are whispering to each other and not kissing. Even though I swear I just heard the word for marriage.

12:42 AM
Oh man, Kumbhakarno just got shot again! Huge, long, silent pause. I actually gasped when the arrow hit.

Is he dead now? He’s sort of keeled over and the song is sad again. Also someone’s at this feet, possibly talking to him, maybe giving a eulogy?

Poor Kumbhakarno. :( So tragic.

12:44 AM
Who’s that guy? He’s got a king’s crown, so I have to deduce that he’s Rama. I guess. And so maybe the other two guys are Lakshmana and Wibisana?

And now they’re having a funeral pyre just like in Return of the Jedi. Kumbhakarno is definitely dead. There’s his spirit ascending to heaven. I’ve heard that he isn’t quite good enough to make it into heaven, though, and so he spends the rest of eternity wandering around trapped in some limbo between heaven and hell.

Poor Wibisana. :( He looks really heartbroken.

I only saw Wibisana danced in the Ramayana Ballet once, and I’m putting so many feelings on him. I have this whole backstory that I created in my head. He’s the youngest; he never wanted to be a king, but that’s exactly what ends up happening; etc.; etc.

12:49 AM
The man sitting behind me just asked me to hand him the sweater that’s been on the seat in front of me for a really long time. Luckily he pointed and it was pretty obvious that he didn’t want the empty food box that was the only other thing on the chair.

12:52 AM
Obviously, it wasn’t the guy’s sweater. The girl who it belongs to just came by looking for it. A woman two rows behind me had it. Not sure why or if she knows the girl, but the sweater has now returned to its proper owner.

12:58 AM
The two people next to me are having a conversation in Javanese. I only understood the word for I don’t want, which I learned in language school, forgot, and then learned again a couple of days ago when my friend and I were sharing a piece of a cake and he decided to talk to me only in Javanese. The word already was not a suitable response to the question You don’t want any more?

1:02 AM
As I feared, we’ve reached another clown scene. Clown scenes are sort of like intermissions. They’re interspersed throughout the performance and offer a break from the story. Usually the dalang takes this as an opportunity to comment on important people in the audience, comment on whatever event the wayang is for (in this case UGM’s economics faculty’s anniversary), and to flirt with the female singers. Most of this commentary is in Javanese, making it basically unintelligible to me. The first clown scene did have some Indonesian when the dalang talked to one of the singers who’s actually American. That I really liked. I suppose if I could speak Javanese, I’d enjoy the clown scenes a lot more, but right now they’re just sort of time sinks of confusion.

1:12 AM
List of free food that I’ve eaten so far at this event:

  • satay, rice with a high gluten content, and delicious peanut sauce
  • amazing noodles with scrambled eggs that weren’t oily and maybe just a bit more of that peanut sauce
  • creamy soup encased in doughy, delicious bread
  • hot tea that was sweet, but I’ve gotten used to sweet
  • a fried banana
  • fried tempeh

Yes, I totally have a dance performance in less than a month, why do you ask?

1:36 AM
I sort of dozed. Weird dreams in Javanese and Indonesian. We’re still in the clown scene, but I woke up because I heard an American accent. We’re back to bantering with the American singer.

Javanese and English resemble each other, according to this dalang. For example, you have long rice and lontong. I admit, I laughed.

1:43 AM
I have half a mind to go look for more fried food.

1:44 AM
Ouch, that hit home. The dalang just asked when she plans to go back to the US. Her answer: “I don’t know…”

Now she’s trying to explain zip codes and I’m cracking up. Zip codes are not a thing in Indonesia.

And now she’s talking about how welcoming everyone is in Indonesia when you want to learn about arts. I am impressed at her ability to say things that I’m feeling, and in Indonesian no less.

1:49 AM
Now she’s singing a song about a lost rabbit.

For some reason, I tried to connect this to The Velveteen Rabbit, but I think there is no connection. Also rather unrelated: The Velveteen Rabbit was a really horrifying story for me as a child. The skin horse and the kid with scarlet fever or something, and of course the abandoned rabbit. Did it have a happy ending? I can’t remember. It all seemed sad to me.

2:01 AM
The VIP’s in the cushioned armchairs are getting tea. I’m jealous.

Also, the dalang is saying something in Javanese about English.

Also, someone behind me is smoking and it’s hard to breathe.

2:03 AM
I have no idea what just happened. Some song in Javanese and English? I definitely heard the words I love you.

Also, Thank you, thank you very much.

2:09 AM
There’s a lot of word play going on right now. The problem is that while some of it is in Indonesian, a lot of it is also in Javanese, so I still don’t really know what’s going on. I also expect there are dirty jokes being thrown around. That’s just how clown scenes go.

2:13 AM
Hujan, lho, hujan,” says the woman next to me.

Indeed, it is raining, just a little bit. Now they’re trying to keep their electrical outlets and lights out of the rain. Luckily, we’re under a tent here.

2:16 AM
Tidur,” the woman next to me advises.

Another nap does sound nice. This clown scene shows no signs of stopping

2:34 AM
One thing that you probably don’t realize about wayang performances: there’s a lot of noise from the dalang besides speaking—various sorts of percussive pounding to keep time or emphasize events. I was just jolted out of my nap by a very loud pounding such as this.

Clown scene still. Why am I not surprised?

2:49 AM
The clown scene finished ten minutes ago, but I fell into a circle of mutual titiping (read: guarding bags), so that’s why there’s been no update. I’m sitting on the edge of the stage now, by the singers.

2:55 AM
The clowns have returned. Clowns on the battlefield? Singing clowns on the battlefield? I don’t know.

Oh, they fell asleep! Indrajit has a magic spell and they fell asleep! Thank you, Shansi mentor, for making this clearer.

2:59 AM
Wibisana returns! He’s having a conversation with Indrajit, it looks like.

3:03 AM
The singers are definitely getting tired. One of them keeps messing with her false eyelashes

3:07 AM
Ravana’s flying around on something. This is what inspires a lot of those ancient astronaut theories, right here.

3:12 AM
One of the awesome things about the little stools that the singers have to sit on is that they double as purses to hold song books. I’m watching one of the singers repack right now.

3:14 AM

I don’t know what Ravana’s saying to her, but it can’t be anything good.

3:18 AM
Ravana: Kowe ngerti?!

3:19 AM
Now he’s pulled out a huge freaking spear or something, and he’ yelling about how he thinks she’s Widowati. This is actually really interesting. In the Javanese version of Ramayana, Ravana kidnaps Sita because he thinks that she’s a reincarnation of Widowati, the woman he’s destined to be with.

(As far as I can tell, that’s how it goes.)

3:22 AM
Ravana vs. Rama: Showdown of Doom.

3:24 AM
Showdown with a lot of talking.

3:28 AM
Ravana is now taking a page from Kumbhakarno’s book and picking Rama up and tossing him around.

But Rama fights back!

3:32 AM
Some sort of chariot fight. Or race? No, fight.

3:33 AM
Ravana gets shot!

Ravana comes back to life!

3:35 AM
Utter chaos. Ravana’s multiple heads? Ravana’s multiple lives? Unclear.

Ravana: Awas!

3:37 AM
Oh man, Ravana’s dead this time. Ten heads and all.

3:38 AM
Rama and Sita reunited! …With what sounds like a sad song. Which I guess is appropriate.

3:42 AM
Final downbeat.

3:58 AM
I reach my house and am left at something of a loss. Now what? Sleep, I suppose.


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