Indonesia Update #3

Hai, kawan!

We have been happily using the orphanage as our base camp.  The past two days we’ve spent in a batik class at an arts school called Yoyoding Batik.  Batik is a traditional Indonesian art form… in which it’s difficult to imagine what the end product will be like at the beginning.  The empty white space of the fabric is a bit overwhelming as is the judgment that accompanies the artistic process.  But we jumped in on creating our own t-shirts, wall hangings and pillowcases.

The first step is to draw your design onto the fabric.  Yoyoding had many designs to choose from and almost all of us chose to trace these as a starting point.  Sidney, Theo, Suzy, and Marina had the courage to start with their own designs!  Then the work begins.

Using a thing called a tjanting tool, we applied wax outlines of the design onto the fabric.  This tool allows you to fill each defined shape with one color of dye without it bleeding into other areas.  A tjanting tool has a small copper bowl to hold molten wax, and a handle and a tiny spout to help the artist direct the flow of the wax.  This is the difficult part.  Depending on the angle at which you hold it, nothing flows, it comes out just right, or it floods out.  The trick is to angle it just right so that it flows slowly and allows you to draw an even line. Yeah, right!  With practice we all got better.  Magically, our large drips and messes were cleaned up by the real artists when we went to lunch.

Once the waxing was completed, we painted the dyes on where we wanted them.  It’s fun to watch as the drip of dye lands on the fabric and spreads until it reaches the wax line, then magically stops.  That’s the idea, anyway.  We saw a lot of dye bleeding out due to imprecise lines.

The color is then set, and we put our work aside to dry.  Later we did a second round of waxing, this time over all the colored areas, such that they would be preserved when the whole piece is dunked into a large dye vat for the background color.  As is typical in the world of batik, Yoyoding uses brilliant colors, making the final products quite beautiful. Less beautiful: some of us are sporting little burns on our fingers from our clumsiness with the tjanting tools!

For many of us, this direct experience cemented an appreciation for the batiks we’ve been seeing and for the development of the art form.  Tonight we will have a discussion and do some writing to explore the ideas of art and value.

Theo Learns Bahasa

We have been enjoying Indonesian food and the Bahasa Indonesian language.  We still mess up a lot, though!  One of our group accidentally walked in on a woman going to the bathroom and profusely “apologized” by saying “terima kasi…terima kasi” meaning, “Thank you…thank you!”   At another point we were leaving a restaurant and Drew waved warmly to the owner in parting, saying “kamar kacil,” meaning “bathroom!”  Despite our language ineptitude, we’re managing to communicate and get what we need.  And to live with our embarrassment!

Group at the Orphanage

Tomorrow is our last full day here, and we’ll work on a mural project with the kids at the orphanage to celebrate.  We have rearranged our schedule and will head to Yogyakarta a day early.  It turns out that Jogy will be a better base of operations for our tour of Borobudur and Prambanan.  We’ll have to give up our side trip to Mt. Bromo, but that decision allows for a more relaxing transition.

Last night in a fit of killing cockroaches (you should see Merissa go at them!) we disturbed an ant colony that had come to take advantage of the free food provided by the previous nights’ killing spree.  The ant nest erupted, the little biting warriors alternating between furiously attacking us and carrying their eggs off to safety.  It was a major event.  Fortunately, Mas Mul came to our rescue and swept them and their dinner out onto the patio so that we could resume occupation of the room.  It was a great exercise of mass cleaning.  And perhaps a lesson was learned about dead/living things as well as cleaning one’s domicile regularly.

At this point we’re one week into our expedition, and everyone still seems in good spirits.  A little friction in the group here and there, and a few upset stomachs, have not prevented us from savoring the spectacular culture and colors of Java.

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