Friday, September 21, 2018

unbelievable Candi Borobudur...

And now, Borobudur. Really, one of the most incredible places to visit in all of Asia. It may be less famous than Angkor Wat, but that may be because Anglor Wat is a complex consisting of many temples. But this single one is definitely one to remember forever.

So, first, what is Borobudur, besides one of those places I dreamt of visiting when I lived in Beijing yet was too damn far for me to go? To begin with, it's the biggest Buddhist temple in the world. Then, it's from the 9th century, so it's mind-bogglingly ancient. But the coolest part, the very best part of all, is its architecture – the lower part consists of a series of square platforms with numerous and intricate reliefs depicting both life in Java as well as Buddhist teachings and myths, the upper part is another series of platforms, but this time circular ones; at the very top, a big circular stupa. In other words, Borobudur is a mandala turned temple. As simple as that. It's so effing amazing. 

Now, it being such an important temple, it gets tons of visitors, both foreign and local. And it being such an imposing place, one of the best moments to see it is at sunrise. So, we paid for a sunrise ticket, got up at 4:15am (the things I do when I'm on "vacation"!), and were taken to the entrance where we were handed a flashlight so we could climb up the temple, and wait for the sunrise.

Now, I think the photos speak for themselves quite well, so let me indulge in a bit more of writing, and then it'll all be pics, I promise (in case you haven't simply scrolled down straight to the photos already, that is). To begin with, since this was a weekday, there were not that many people there with us waiting for the sun to rise – maybe some 40 people or so?  And all of us were there, in almost complete darkness, with the outlines of stupas and a few Buddhas against the sky... and then...

Well, then it started getting clearer. But it was also cloudy, and it seemed that there was not going to be a sunrise. More light? Sure. The sun rising majestically in the horizon? Not so much. But still, the temple looked gorgeous in that soft, early morning light, and all of us wandered around, taking pictures from every angle and enjoying the place. Until, suddenly, the sun found a gap in the clouds, and started shining bright and orange and beautiful – a sunrise not in the horizon, but happening in the middle of the sky. It caught us all by surprise, and left us in awe. The temple, the valley around, it all was just so stunning to look at. 

And then, a bonus: it seems many people do both Borobudur and other places in the same day. So, they're at Borobudur for sunrise, stay a bit, and then they leave for the next site. Us? Well, we were staying a few minutes from the temple, had no big plans for the rest of the day, and we could spend as long as we could. And we did. With Borobudur practically for ourselves, we explored for around four hours, until we could no more. In theory, you're supposed to walk around every platform, in order from bottom to top, ascending closer to illumination (the stupa on top). We did it the other way around, from the main central stupa at the top, around every single platform, until we reached the ground. Wow. And that's when all the other tourists, the ones with daytime tickets, came en masse. We are so incredibly lucky.

And this is the photo story of that wonderful morning:

In the end, a lot more happened that day. But I wanted a post dedicated just to Candi Borobudur (Candi is Indonesian for "temple"). It deserved it.

Monday, September 17, 2018

a week in Central Java – gado-gado, Buddhism and masks

Guess what, we spent a week in Central Java! I had asked for a week off, and our original intention was to go to the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region for a few days visiting rice terraces, karst scenery and national parks. Alas, I didn't realize the dates I had asked for coincided with the end of summer holidays here and train tickets were next to impossible to get! So I got online, and engaged in one of my favourite travel-planning activities: looking for non-expensive flights to anywhere that is not too far! The winner? A flight to Yogyakarta (Indonesia) via Singapore! 

And so, that's how we ended up visiting Central Java, home of two of the most impressive temples in the whole region – Prambanan and Borobudur. Wow. Love it when chance offers you these opportunities, right?

The flight approaching Java was, of course, amazing, it being a seriously volcanic island of the Indonesian archipelago:

Our first day was a bit short, of course. And exhausting. Despite it not being that far, it still took us two hours to fly to Singapore, and then another four to reach Yogyakarta airport. And then another hour to reach our hotel in the town of Magelang, where the famous Borobudur temple lies. Fortunately, our hotel was built like a villa, it was cozy, and it also happened to be lunch time, which gave me an opportunity to jump right in into the local cuisine with a plate of gado-gado!

After that, and after booking a sunrise entrance to Borobudur the next day, we decided to take it easy and just explore a bit around our area, eventually reaching Candi Pawon – a 9th century Buddhist temple.

Square, solid, small, in its own small square. Wonderful introduction to the island's religious architecture. And we had it all to ourselves, not a soul in sight except a couple of kids playing around.

And you know what else was great? There were some shops selling crafts nearby! Tons of them! And clearly handmade and not mass-produced! Wow! You can imagine the habibi went crazy with all the masks, and we had a pretty hard time choosing which one to buy. So colourful and intense!

Next day we had to be ready to leave at 4:15am. So after our small cultural introduction to Central Java, we had dinner, and went to bed at 8pm! But it was a necessary thing – seeing Borobudur at sunrise did look totally worth it, and though the weather didn't seem that great, we really wanted to avoid visiting the temple during the weekend, which would guarantee an even bigger crowd than we already expected. That meant we had one and only one shot (because those sunrise tickets were damn expensive!). And as you'll see in my next post, it absolutely worked out.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018


Roysheshune (Jewish New Year). Our first one in Guangzhou. I consider myself incredibly lucky to have been able to celebrate with close friends. To have been able to get closer to other friends. And to have had the opportunity of meeting a new friend, a Jew who was not going to celebrate for lack of other fellow friends from the tribe! 

The habibi prepared a succulent stew (his signature chulent), and besides the mandatory apples we had fresh Chinese dates a some strange African fruit called Kiwano (how's that for something new to try?). Plus our also traditional beets and pomegranate salad. And wine and mezcal (thanks to one of our friends!). 

This was, in every sense, a very sweet beginning. As it should be. 

Shune toyve! Happy new year! שנה טובה ומתוקה!