My Java Diary part 3

May 12

The monkey was wearing a red suit and riding a small motorbike. After crashing the bike he then started to jump through a hoop.
I am crammed into a small mini van, the kind that make up a large proportion of the congested traffic in Bandung. I am heading of to meet Arief and Chief Ginggi somewhere in town.  The monkey is just one of many intersection entertainments where people busk for money.  They range from the very young, who should be at school, to the old, who should be cared for by some loved one.   Witnessing poverty is one of the hardest things that I have to deal with when I travel, but it also firms my resolve that education is the only way out of it.

The driver signals that I have arrived at my destination. I am not sure where I am but I am relieved to see my friends waiting for me.  We attend a contemporary music performance conducted by a Mexican musician who is studying traditional Indonesian music. I feel energized after the performance and I am ready to for the drive back to Jatiwangi.

What should have been a two-hour drive turns into a regular road trip.  As always I’m not sure what is planned, and we stop off at several friend’s places in Bandung to say hello.  We visit a filmmaker, photographers and two artists’ studios. By now I know the routine: sweet black coffee, many clove flavoured cigarettes and much discussion. It is now 10 pm and I think we are finally on the road proper. As we approach the mountain road that leads down to the valley; Chief Ginggi informs me dryly, that many Indonesians die on this road!  Great, I am on the highway to hell! 
What a trip it turned out to, by midnight we are still heading down the road, and it is bumper to bumper in both directions!

When we finally make it off the mountain, it’s time for another stop.  ‘Makan, makan’ Ginggie calls out with a grin on his face.  Of course, time to eat again.  With our stomachs settled by a large helping of noodles, rice and fried prawns we are ready for the home stretch. 

May 13

I was about to say good night to everyone, as it had been a long day after yesterday’s epic drive home. I was then informed that I was ‘on’ in two minutes! I remembered someone mentioning a possible interview on the local radio station, but something about the timing must have got lost in the translation.  Luckily my years of being a radio broadcaster held me in good stead for the late night live talk back show, I had to be present for.  The broadcaster also turned out to be my assistant Aceng, and together we entertained a lively audience with a bilingual discussion on the meaning of my arts project.  The discussion also helped me to verbalise my ideas and bring the project into a tighter focus.

Earlier that evening I spend some time in the studio working on the sculptures and it occurred to me that my working method changes with the working environment.  I want to involve as many people of the community as possible and this will only be achieved by adopting local methods. Just like a street food hacker, I will take the ‘Basket of Hope’ sculpture through the back lanes of the village and allow the locals to place a wish in it. This way I am adopting a local dialogue method.

I am also making good progress with my photo essay.  Having the luxury of time means I am able to build a level of trust with the workers.  This is starting to reflect in the images.  I welcomed the opportunity to share all of these ideas with the radio audience.


May 14

‘What do you mean your mother told you not to eat with your hands?’ Arief looked at me bewildered, when I blamed my Swiss upbringing for not being able to master the art of hand feeding myself.  Then we both burst into laughter at the ridiculous situation.  It’s Saturday night and I am out with the boys, sitting on a carpet on the front lawn of the senior high school principal’s house and we are having a late dinner.  By now we must have gone trough several six packs of cold sweet tea, as we once again discuss the meaning of life. The air outside is a thick mixture of clove scented Indonesian cigarettes and eye burning smoke from the kilns of the numerous tile factories nearby. 

I finally manage to eat my meal, which came served on a Jati leave, but it was the first time that I finished last.  During my stay at Jatiwangi, I am reading Khaaled Hosseini’s ‘The  Kite Runner’ and tonight, not for the first time, I am struck at the similarities of Afghan and Indonesian life. But I guess, that because Indonesia is a predominantly Muslim country, it is not surprising. So I sit with the men, and it’s usually only with the men, on the carpet, drink more coffee and we work out the remaining schedule for my residency. There is no need for me to take any notes, as so far all arrangements have been fluid.  It suits me well!


May 15

I was right about having to be flexible!  Sunday morning was supposed to be our second big workshop day with the local school students.  I set my alarm for 6 am and was ready for the planned 7 o’clock start.  My trusty assistant, Aceng, was here as well, armed with our ‘Basket of Hope’ we set off on foot to the school in anticipation of a busy morning.  Unfortunately our hopes for a productive morning were dashed, as an empty school ground greeted us.  I suspect communications broke down somewhere down the line.  Not to be persuaded by this apparent set back, Aceng and I just hang around; somebody will turn up we told ourselves. The local Tae Kwon Do group who arrived to do their practice saved us.  In the true spirit of flexibility, instead of performing martial arts, the group was invited to create contemporary art!

By early afternoon the persistent wet season cooled us down for the rest of the day. I found myself a dry and quiet spot and finished reading my book.


May 16

Now that the project has reached its half-way point, my thoughts are turning to finishing the work.  The gallery space here at the Arts Factory is a fine location to install the sculptures and show the photos.  Much thought is given to reflecting the environment in which the work was created.  The use of bamboo, batik and rattan adds to the local feel.   Later in the day the local video production team, who produced a small documentary about the project, interviewed me.

I spend some time in the evening in the studio by myself, working on the sculpture.  The sound of countless local muezzins washes over me, interrupted only by the occasional rhythmical call of a lone gecko.


May 17

I am back on the bike, it’s probably a size too small for me as my knees keep hitting the handlebars and the saddle keeps slipping into a very uncomfortable position.  Putting on a brave face I peddle on. I am assured it’s not very far; I hope he’s right!  The local screen printer, Denny, has invited me to inspect his workshop.  I am also getting some t-shirts custom made. I’m happy to support the local economy. Danny introduces me to his family and staff and proudly shows off his workshop.  Like many locals, he’s built the house and workshop himself, with the help of local people and local material.  I know I’ll be proud to wear my handmade t-shirt from Jatiwangi.

The Tae Kwon Do team arrived later in the afternoon to listen to a story and work on one of the Baskets of Hope.  The baskets are doing their job, as the boys and girls chat with each other and some keen ones even practice their English on me.  I, in turn ,pick up the odd Indonesian phrase and so the basket has become a social meeting point.


May 19

About eighty curious pairs of eyes greeted me as I entered the classroom; there were no chairs or tables, just a spotless floor.  The students of the Islamic Elementary School at Madrasan Cijati, near Majalengka were lined up against the wall, boys and girls neatly divided.  We had arrived via a mini bus to continue our project at a regional school community. This time I had company and was supported by Melissa, a theatre performer from Mexico, and local musician Tedi En.  My  assistant Aceng was also there to translate for me. I had met the principal of he school a couple of nights ago, and we had arranged for the project to come to his school.  This turned out to be one of the more rewarding experiences for me.  Perhaps it was the idyllic setting of the school amongst the rice paddies and surrounded by volcanic mountains, or it was the shy enthusiasm of the students who made me so welcome at their school.  Hearing the story of ‘Stone Soup’ in two languages and acted out by two grown men had the students entranced. While Aceng and I worked with half of the school on the stories and the material sculpture, Melissa and Tedi found a large shady tree and entertained the other half with songs and dances.

The drive home was interrupted by a stop at the local market to buy a large helping of cooked snails, a local delicacy!




May 20

As part of the final presentation in my residency, I am going to show the photos of the tile makers to the workers in the factory.  So this morning I was catching up with some last photo shooting at the factory.  This time Chief Ginggi and his camera trailed me as he is making a mini documentary about my photo project here.  Having someone who speaks the local language was a good opportunity to explain some of the shots that I had in mind, and I got some powerful portraits done.

I wasn’t going to fool any one with my dress up; there was no way I was going to be mistaken for a local gamelan player.  If there was any doubts, these were soon dispelled the moment I sat down with the drums. It made for some amusing photos though. At times my jaws ache from smiling, as every body takes the opportunity to have their photo taken with the ‘Mister’.  I am happy to oblige, it seems to be the least I can do with so much generosity given to me.

I had come to watch the local gamelan group practice their music, puppet play and dance routine.  It was inevitable that I would be somehow dragged into the action. I knew the moment had come when one of the players arrived with a costume for me.  By the time I had squeezed myself into the outfit, many cameras were at the ready. I just kept smiling.



May 21

I’m bouncing up and down in the back of a small truck, surrounded by bleary-eyed Art Factory artists, a large canvas and two baskets of Hope.   It’s just after 7 am and we are heading to the Junior High school in Jatiwangi, our next project stop. This turned out to be the biggest turnout yet, as over a thousand students gathered for the morning assembly.  We were treated to gamelan and a dance performance.  Then it was time to address the students and inform them about the project.  Later, as we split up into a more intimate size, I worked with about 250 students on two of the baskets.  We also set the groundwork on a future collaboration to create a local ‘I Am’ project. (for more information on ‘I AM’ see my website:

As the third week comes to a close, I can now envisage the final outcome of this project.  But there are still some local performances planned with the baskets, including a visit to the local health care centre and a walk through the village with the baskets.  It promises to be an exciting last week.


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