I now have a morning routine worked out; it helps me to settle in to the place. While I am comfortable here, there is no denying that as a westerner, staying in a traditional Javanese household is challenging at times. I am now used to the muezzin’s call at 4 am and the rooster doesn’t bother me anymore, well almost. After a visit to the traditional Indonesian bath room, the Mandi, to freshen up, I go to the shared office and work on my photos from the previous day and catch up with my diary. This does not mean that the factory fails in surprising me with something new everyday. Today a performance troop from Bandung has come to visit and will stay for the weekend to entertain us. Music, drama and acrobatics are in store. The performers are busy all day cutting and shaping large bamboo sticks to make a stage and performance equipment.
That evening the director of the troop conducts a drama workshop, which is followed by a percussion session where all instruments are made out of clay. The music transports me even deeper into the local psyche. I grab an early night sleep, tomorrow promises to be a big day.
From the moment I got up the place was buzzing with energy; young fit looking men and women everywhere. The constant beating of drums seems to attract more people by the minute. And it’s not just the people who are interested in the theatre performance who are flocking to the factory; this amount of people presents a business opportunity. They arrived by bicycle, motorbikes; pick up trucks. There are men caring bamboo poles across their necks with baskets attached. Within no time a mini market had arrived to sell t-shirts, food and toys. In two hours the performance begins.
When I emerged from my studio in the in the warmth of the early evening I hardly recognised the place. The smoke and warm glow of dozens of kerosene lamps had transformed the harsh tile factory into a magical Asian bazaar. The theatre group had managed to change the factory floor into a primeval setting, somewhere at the beginning of time. Where a few hours ago, tired looking workers toiled with heavy mud, there were now nimble performers beating out a new rhythm. Although I did not understand any of the dialogue, this did not diminish any of the show’s power for me. I was spellbound by the energy and the raw emotion of the play. In the true spirit of the local organisers, this free performance of ‘Tanah’ ( Earth) by Iman Soleh, was played to a full house. It’s images and sounds will stay with me for a long time.
The reassuring smell of the mosquito coil engulfs me, as I reflect on yesterday’s events. I spend the afternoon with Chief Ginggi, who had invited me to his place. True to his belief in grassroots living, he had built himself a traditional Indonesian style bamboo house, as well as a beautiful family house, made out of recycled timber and hand made bricks.
He later invited me to visit a traditional brick-making factory. It was here that I was mistaken for a wealthy bank manager! As I was taking photos of a woman making bricks by hand, she asked Ginggi if the owner of the brick making business had taken out a bank loan? I must surely be the manger who wanted to ensure that the investment was sound! He assured her that I was just a Swiss artist, who found it satisfying taking pictures of her working hands. The woman gave a relieved smile and showed me her hands.
They have come with gongs, saron, and angklung’s and play the Javanese version of a Gamalang, the Degung. It is my first day at the local school and the students have prepared a welcome concert for me. I was very touched by their generosity of spirit. Armed with the bamboo structure for the sculpture and a stone in my pocket for the story, my assistant, Aceng, and I began our morning workshop. After nearly three hours, the students, numbering over a hundred, had transformed the structure into a colourful Javanese style material sculpture. I realise that art is used not just as entertainment, a commodity or a luxurious distraction. Art here is a powerful reminder for the people of who they are, and what is possible. When art is used to communicate the past the present and the future it becomes a philosophy. The children may not have looked at it this way, they were just having fun, and that in itself, is a good enough function for art.
There was a truck and several motorbikes coming directly for us and we were on the wrong side of the road! I didn’t even flinch and continued to study the countryside through my bus window. I had booked myself a seat on the bus to Bandung, west Java’s capital city. After several trips to China and Korea, I was used to a highway manoeuvreing. I need some time to myself, and I am looking forward to spending two nights at a hotel in Bandung.
The bus ride to the capital takes me through a breathtakingly beautiful landscape with its lush green rice fields, banana trees and various other tropical fruit trees. Tofu and fresh water hackers line the road waiting to hop on to sell their wares, to one of the many buses that are east or west bound. The traffic is at times at a stand still as we cross a mountain, but it doesn’t matter. I have slowed down to Java time; there is little point in trying to keep a tight schedule. What for anyway!
At my arrival at the Bandung bus terminal, I find a suitable taxi, negotiate an agreeable price and find myself 20 minutes later lying in an air-conditioned room. I am looking forward to my first hot shower in nearly ten days, and a cool night’s sleep to follow.
I am intending to have a rest day and I succeed for the most part. The hotel has swimming on the roof that I am intending to use but not before I explore my new neighbourhood a little. I leave the hotel after breakfasts and a follow the steady stream of people, food carts and motorbikes that all seem to head in one direction. Half an hour later I am in the midst of a busy bazaar. Many ‘Hello Mister’s later, I am heading back to the hotel, a couple of t-shirts richer and ready for the pool!