Two tales from Yogya


Written by:

Views: 951

1.  At the wartel across the road from where I am staying in Yogya, the glass counter showing off the range of snacks and essentials to passersby on the street forms the transparent boundary of what is essentially a family’s living room.  A girl of around 13 came up to serve me.  Her mother was folding clothes in the corner, and her brother had his back to me, shooting something on a Playstation hooked up to a flickering TV set.

I used my best Indonesian to order some water and Mentos.

She replied back in perfectly pronounced English: “That will be Rp 8000 please miss”.

“You speak English so well.  I wish my Indonesian was that good! You must study hard at school.”

“Thank you miss” she replied blushing.

Suddenly her brother turned around and screamed a boisterous “HELLO!”.  His face had a dippy smile and cherub cheeks and I know from growing up with cousins with an intellectual disability that his perpetually happy nature and facial features were those of someone with Down’s Syndrome.

He got up, rushed over to the counter, and again screamed “HELLO!”.  He grabbed my hand and shook it vigorously, so hard that my elbow banged against the glass counter.  He then stopped and stared at me for a minute with a huge smile on his face.

“Siapa nama Anda?” I asked.  He smiled some more.  Then he screamed “Playstation!”, grabbed my arm and led me around the side of counter.  I hastily kicked off my shoes before stepping in to their home, without time to ask permission as I was pulled quite forcefully behind the counter and over to the Play station.

“Sorry miss, he wants you to watch him play Playstation,” the young girl told me.

“Ok, sure. No problem.”

The boy fired up the game quickly and pointed at the screen a few times just to make sure I watched.

He started shooting some sort of bad dude I assumed, so I decided I should make appropriate sound effects.

“Yeah, get him, yay!  Bagus!”

His mother and sister were giggling the whole time.  He decided to enthusiastically mimic my game commentary.

“Yeah!” he called out.

Then, unfortunately, one of the bad ones got him, and it’s game over.  He stomped his foot on the ground.

We all made consolatory sounds.  “Awwwww”.

“Anda bagus sekali!” (You are very good) I tell him.  He beams, and grabs my hand once again for a fiercely enthusiastic handshake.

“Thank you miss. I think you have made him very happy.  He likes to show people how he can play the Playstation,” the young girl says.

“That’s ok, it was fun.  I should go now though, it looks like it is starting to rain. Nice to meet you all.”

So I slipped my shoes on and left.  But there were no waves goodbye from Mr Playstation.  He was already engrossed in his next game.



I grabbed the first becak I saw this morning and was going to head to see the Sultan’s Palace.  The becak outside my lodgings was beautifully coloured, and clearly well taken care of.

I spoke with the driver in Indonesian, agreed to a price, and then off we went.

Once I was in the becak, he started speaking impeccable English.  He could tell I was trying to learn though, so we spoke that speckled back and forth way, with my sentences pieced together with English and bits of Indonesian.

We talked, and agreed to a price for him to take me around to a few tourist destinations during the day.  Rp 50,000 was his offer to work from 9am to 4pm.  I wasn’t going to argue him down.  He was asking for a measly daily rate of $5.

I can’t remember his name, let’s just call him Pak.

He started to tell me a story.

“I’ve been driving becak in Yogya since I was a young man.  For 37 years.  So I know everywhere in this city and I have always lived in Yogya so I can tell you a lot about it.”

“Do you like your job?”

“I do it because I have to.  It’s hard work.  I’m getting old. I don’t know what I will do if I get too old to ride becak.”

“Are there many tourists in Yogya?”

“During the middle of the year, yes, lots from Europe.  During this time of the year, not so many.  Not so many Australians any more at all because of the travel warnings.  They go somewhere else now.  Maybe Vietnam.”

“Do many Indonesians from other areas come to Yogya?”

“Yes, they do, but for becak drivers that is hard sometimes.  They want to pay nothing for everything. That’s why it’s better for me to get a daily rate.  Some days there are so many becak and so few customers, you don’t make anything.”

We sit quietly for a while.  The becak lurches forward clumsily with every push of his legs and thuds over potholes in the road.  I wonder how many times his legs have laboriously pushed those squeaky pedals around in all those years.

The roads are dotted with hundreds of flags for the upcoming elections.

“The sultan of Yogya is running in the election, isn’t he?”

“Yes.  I don’t care though.  So many years, so many promises, none of them change anything for the poor people.”

“Hmm yes, politicians are like that everywhere though.  All promises, no action.”

“But in Indonesia, we have the corrupsi.  It makes it even harder for the poor people because it’s not fair.  To get a good job, you need to have connections to important people.  To have connections to important people, you have to have money to pay bribes.  You can’t pay bribes if you haven’t got a good job.  So there’s no way to advance.  The rich get richer, the poor stay the same.”

“Hmm yes it’s not fair at all.”

“But now, I am apathetic.  Tidak apa-apa.  I don’t care. I’m too old now to change my work, but when I was a young man it made me angry.”

“Do you think it’s improving, the corruption?”

“I am a pessimissss (how he pronounced it).  It’s not better.  They just get better at hiding it.”

When I got off the becak, I looked at his scrawny legs.  There was muscle there, and the veins popped out, but they were so scrawny. His face was leathery from the sun. But despite it all, he had the kindest eyes.  I think that’s what you call resilience.

2 Responses to " Two tales from Yogya "

  1. Wren says:

    There’s nothing like the huge smile of a down syndrome child to brighten one’s day. What they lack in clear diction and ankle bones they make up for in spirit and enthusiasm.
    In fact, I think it is high time we stop calling them “down syndrome”. How about “up syndrome”?
    “Up syndrome” seems to me to be a much more appropriate label, if we must use labels, to use for these Cheery, delightful, genertically diverse blessings…. what do you think?
    I think… Bagus!

  2. Julie Betteridge says:

    It seems to me that those the world cast as imperfect are perfectly lovely. Who decides what is imperfect. It seems that the so called imperfect are teaching us that it is perfectly fine to be imperfect for the world will adore you anyway and you can be perfectly happy being imperfect.