21st October 2015; we started the day with some breakfast at a street food stall. These sorts of places, where you can get tasty and reasonably priced food quickly and easily, are ubiquitous in Asia, and sorely lacking in the UK. As a foreigner, for whom (according to my upbringing) eating out is generally a special occasion to be savoured, it takes quite a bit of getting used to the different culture in Asia, where eating out is just a normal, everyday thing. My companions wolfed down their food quick-time, and once again I found myself last to finish, with everyone waiting for me!
After breakfast, we continued on the road to our destination for the day; Borobudur temple. As a committed Christian, I am always cautious about visiting religious temples and shrines. I do believe that it is good to learn about other religions and expand your understanding of different cultures and people, though discernment is required. I won’t get into a theological discussion, but John Piper provides some good teaching here for those similarly concerned.
Borobudur dates from the 9th Century, and is the largest Buddhist temple in the world, decorated with reliefs and statues. A large restoration project took place between 1975 and 1982, after which Borobudur was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is still actively used as a place of Buddhist worship.
It was a scorching hot day, and we certainly felt it climbing up the stone steps, the walls radiating the heat from the sun. A bottle of water at the very least is required! The ruins are in good shape, though some of the statues are missing their heads. Most have probably been chiselled off by selfish, vandalising souvenir hunters of yesteryear (indeed in 2016 we found one in the British Museum!) There were still some workmen on top of the structure, presumably carrying out ongoing maintenance. The top provides expansive views of the landscape of Java stretching out in all directions.
Upon coming down from the ruins, we were immediately set upon by a mob of souvenir hawkers. This is a fairly common occurrence at tourist attractions in both Europe and Asia, but the ones here were quite insistent. Thankfully, as I was with Indonesians, they targeted the assault mainly at the group of Dutch tourists who were just in front of us.
However, what really surprised me was that from there, we ended up walking through a rabbit warren of covered market stalls, each of which was selling just about the same collection of souvenirs. This went on for some time and it felt like we passed hundreds of little stalls before we finally emerged in the car park. I felt quiet sorry for these sellers; it must be a pretty thankless job, and I can’t imagine any of them make much money, especially given the sheer volume of them in such a small area (though this perhaps reflects the fact that Borobudur is Indonesia’s most visited tourist attraction). Most people in the West live such comfortable lives in comparison to these poor people.
By the way; top tip: Don’t accidentally leave a Beng-Beng Maxx in your trouser pocket when you go out for a day-trip in Indonesia, unless you like your chocolate bars to be completely liquefied when you eat them! 😀 It didn’t stop me eating it.
In the evening we ate at a pork restaurant; that is, a restaurant serving just about nothing but pork-based dishes. This is a quirk I’ve only come across in Indonesia, and I guess has something to do with the country being majority Muslim. Pork restaurants are owned, run by and cater for the non-Muslim demographic. I have to say the pork I ate during this holiday remains some of the best I’ve ever tasted.