Thursday Photo Friday #11

November 13, 2008

in Asia, Cheap Activities, Entertainment, Free Stuff, Photos, Travel, Web Tips

Just because I live overseas doesn’t mean the world is at my fingertips.  While you’re sitting in your office living vicariously through my adventures, fantasizing about that once-in-a-lifetime trip to Paris, to Istanbul, to Kenya or to Sydney, I too have my own list of “if only I had the money” destinations.  For me, most of these lie on/in the Pacific — and near the top is Indonesia.

Fourth-largest country in the world, largest Muslim country in the world, childhood home to one Barack Obama — nevertheless a place most of us know so little about that we would have difficulty placing it on the map.

I don’t claim to be a whole lot more knowledgable about the country than that, as my experience has come secondhand, through the rhythms of Java and, more recently, Bali.


One of the benefits of a liberal arts education is the opportunity to try on a number of hats and see if they fit — to dabble in painting, in religious studies, in economics or biology — before deciding on any particular fashion statement for life.  And though you may leave this or that behind (and you will most likely drop the hat you selected at some point), you wear that which you’ve chosen better for modeling all the others.

bonang kenong saronIt may be surprising that I picked up Javanese music (Gamelan) while studying in the middle of Iowa.  To me, it’s more surprising that I am still playing in a Gamelan, now in Berlin, Germany.  Music transcends.  Even specialized knowledge is sometimes rewarded.

Here I have the opportunity to play with both foreigners and natives and to play both Balinese and Javanese instruments (and lovely sets they are too!).  The Embassy offers free Bahasa Indonesia courses.  Every time we practice, someone makes a delicious native dish.  Over time, I learn more about the people and the culture of a country I can only imagine in the vaguest of terms.  If their scholarship program were more generous (I know 1,000,000 rupiah sounds like a lot, but it is the equivalent of $90), I would gladly take Indonesia up on the offer . . .  In the meanwhile, I will continue fantasizing about my future Gamelan set — you know, the one I’m having made when I actually make it to Java someday (I know a couple readers/former ensemble members hear me on this)!

If there is a lesson to be taken from this, it is that an Embassy can be a wealth of resources and opportunities to learn about people and places you’re interested in, giving you numerous opportunities to develop a deeper relationship with a country before or after your visit.  If you live in a world city which is home to a variety of Embassies, it pays to get on their mailing lists to find out what is being offered.  Many of these opportunities will be colorful, family-oriented and free.

For those of you who have no idea what a Gamelan even sounds like, I am so happy to have found two clips of performances I was in online, for your listening pleasure – I’m sure if you listen closely you can pick me out. :)

Follow others on the Photo Friday trail, starting here.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jenny 11.14.08 at 2:50 am

I like this, makes me think about enrolling in Liberal Arts next year.

2 Debbie 11.14.08 at 9:19 am

What a great tip… my only experience with a foreign embassy in the US was marching (against oppression of Jews) outside the Russian Embassy in San Francisco as a child.

Thanks for sharing your photos!

3 Beth Whitman 11.14.08 at 6:49 pm

I love that your Gamelan playing has traversed the world. I love the sound of it as it brings me right back to my time in Ubud, Bali.

I’m inspired to go pull out my CDs of Balinese music! Thanks for sharing your photos and stories.

4 Dominique 11.14.08 at 7:04 pm

I love seeing and hearing unusual (to me, at least) instruments. They always fascinate me, and I can’t resist going into a store to check them out if I see them in a window.
For my part, I’ve always had an irrational desire for a cabasa. :P

5 Mara 11.14.08 at 7:50 pm

To my mind, this is its own kind of travel. Encountering the other in unexpected places, even if you don’t get on a plane to do so.

6 Angela Nickerson 11.14.08 at 9:33 pm

I love gamelan music — and had no idea you played it! How very, very cool!

Where did you learn to play it in Iowa? Luther?

7 kat calvin 11.14.08 at 11:59 pm

Wow, what a fantastic skill! Thanks!

8 wandermom 11.15.08 at 3:07 am

Listening to your prior performances now – thanks for including them here.

9 jessie voigts 11.15.08 at 6:29 am

lovely photos, and essay. too cool!!

10 soultravelers3 11.15.08 at 7:28 am

“Music transcends.” That about says it all! Thanks for a lovely post, audio and picture!

11 Caitlin 11.17.08 at 10:37 pm

I’ve been to Sumatra and I’m going to Indonesia again in December, though the itinerary isn’t yet set. I’ll be based in a coffee growing area and hopefully seeing a few sights as well.

It’s interesting to read about experiencing a country from afar through its arts and music. Lovely idea!

One thing though – Indonesia is not actually in the Pacific, it’s partly in the Indian Ocean and partly in the South China Sea. I guess Irian Jaya / West Papua is in the Pacific.

Leave a Comment

You can use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Previous post:

Next post: