Day 6: On the Train

Today I woke up from an uneventful night of the Borneo Band- My snoring bunkmates.

Today is my last day in Yogyakarta. It’s too bad that I didn’t see the puppet show or Gamelan orchestra while I was here, but maybe I can do that with Trinh in East Java. This morning I woke up at 7:30 AM and went to the Blanco and Books café to do some work. I answer a few Emails, had a work call in Vietnam, and learned a few things on YouTube.


I had the great misfortune of seating next to a Christian evangelical missionary trying to persistently invite a university-aged girl to her house for prayer group and trying to convince the young girl, who must be almost fully converted to take off her hijab. The missionary was an oblivious and persistent American woman in her thirties. She was convincing the girl to go ahead and upset her parents by taking off her hijab and going public with her conversion. The woman’s Bible babel and the serious tone was affected and manipulative. I tried to drown it out by listening to music on YouTube, but I constantly fantasized about intervening. In my mind, I was going to interrupt with, “You know what abusive boyfriends do? They drive a wedge between the girl and her family… that is what abusive people do.”

I decided not to say anything. A younger less exposed me would feel more, but in some sense, I have seen too much to think that I can intervene in any of it. Why intervene in this bullying when I do nothing about the unceasing tide of poverty around me?

I felt bad for the girl who would likely upset her family and society by converting, only to attend a well-feed sendoff party for the beloved missionary. How she would stay here to struggle and the white woman would get Likes on her blog and Instagram for her few years overseas. The missionary and girl talked at length about Instagram addiction and how Instagram would be the megaphone for her to announce her conversion. In a funny way the Muslim girl talked about “fasting Instagram”- repurposing the language of Muslim for the modern era.

This lost and curious girl was so ripe for conversion. I understand a bit about the stages of decision making, because I used to recruit for my fraternity. Giving my unique attention to lost dudes looking for community and Xbox. I imagine that this girl, under the thumb of her parents, was attracted to the missionary’s message and the sophistication of chatting in a café with a white American woman.

I wondered why of all the topics on Earth this bothered me so much? There are much greater problems around me all the time. Maybe I feel some guilt, because I benefit from the legacy of missionaries, the worship of white people, or because I emphasize with the lost girl looking for a “teacher”, or I resent my own resignation, that as my worldview widens there is less and less I feel I can impact.

After the odd couple got up and left another hijab-wearing woman sat in the same seat as the young women and I thought, “Do you know what happened in that seat?”. Then I wondered what conversations all the chairs in the world have supported.

Train station

When I arrived at the Yogyakarta train station I was a bit rounded around about how to enter the station. The fence doesn’t have a grand gate or anything. Once inside I scanned a barcode from a mobile app to pick up my ticket, way better than Amtrak. Then I walked in circles around the train station. I saw a white woman with two biracial Indonesian kids. Which I have never seen outside of America and Japan. ( written in retrospect: I would see this woman and her kids at Bromo and at the Ijen – she was on the same route as me).


I sang, “California” by Joni Mitchell to myself and daydreamed about living in Seattle. I walked in a circle all around the station until my train came and I got on the train. Amazingly on time!

The views of Java from the window were beautiful. With the center of Mount Merapi covered by clouds the top of the mountain looked like a floating island in the sky.


The floating top of Mt. Merapi 

The towns we passed through had kids happily playing with bamboo stilts, old man wading through the green rice paddy pools, and young men biking through rural roads in idyllic rural tones with the backdrop of slumbering volcanoes.

Then after an hour of sunset daydreaming out the window, my train stopped at a rural station and everyone got off. This certainly wasn’t Surabaya, Indonesia’s 2nd largest city! I got off the train and scrambled to a train attendant. My train hadn’t been on time; I had got on the previous train arriving late. Luckily, my late train arrived and I got on to my rightful train seat.

On this train, we circled around Mt. Lawu. Sunset made Lawu its own sort of shadow puppet. Making it look like a dark gash torn in the paper of the blue sky. Just as the sunset, Mt. Lawu was surrounded by an orange, yellow, pink burst of light. This photo doesn’t do it justice. To see the mountain, I had to get up and stand in the area where two train cars connect and steady myself as I snapped away through a small window.


Mt. Lawu

The image of Lawu reminded me of a painting I had painted a few months before. You can see the similarities and estimate my wonder if I had, in fact, witnessed my vision.


Mt. Lawu, 2018


My painting, 2017

I’m excited to go with Trinh to the volcanic region of East Java and see sunsets and sunrises just like this one. So I can share these romantic moments with her. Now that the sun has set, I’ll do a few errands and read my book about Michele Obama. I’m also arranging our two-day tour of the volcanos while on the train.

The train arrived at the station with my head still following a young Michelle Obama through her years at Princeton. I’m reading “Becoming” a totally irrelevant book, but a fascinating look into the ordinary extraordinary Michelle. I booked a hostel that was close to the station so I could walk from the station.

One of the advantages of arriving by train is that you are usually in the heart of the city already. No need for the long taxi ride into town. With the confidence of a beloved and befuddled house cat erroneously locked outside for the evening, I stepped into the night.

The first thing I saw was a performance of small girls and young men singing in Arabic outside a Mosque. I stood with the loitering donothings on the side of the road in wonder. Then I wandered through a shitty part of town. I thought that if I kept moving I would be fine. I eventually scampered across a few streets and made it to my hostel.

There I asked the kind lady at the front desk, Grace, to order delivery food for me and I set-up my things in the room. The room is a panopticon with many beds in a row- like a capsule hotel. I set my things in the locker and waited for my food to arrive in the lobby. A dude appeared with a bundle of brown paper held together with a rubber band. It was my dinner, rice and fried chicken all delicious smashed into a ball. There were no utensils, because the Indo in Indonesia eats with their hands.


I would regret this meal for the next 8 days 🙂

After dinner and an awkward shower in a large empty shower room, the last call with Trinh before her flight to Surabaya. I looked at the news of volcanoes erupting and making a tsunami. Then I went up to my room to see that a cohort of Indonesian Muslim young men dressed in ceremonial white clothing and white fezzes had moved into the room with me. They seemed friendly and the room was nice. We each had our own private section although no wall for privacy, but a pull down blind. I did a few preparations for our trip tomorrow on my laptop and prepared for bed.


My little bed


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