Friday, May 30, 2008

Guitar Heroes

It's been a week since the finale of American Idol 2008 and as expected, I am starting to feel the symptom of AI withdrawal. I have never been one to go cold turkey on anything. So I downloaded the performances from iTunes to soothe the cravings a bit.

Then Nick (bless his soul!) sent me a link for a Guitar Hero ad spot featuring the two Davids that viewers outside of the US won't get to see. I got such a hoot from watching it and I hope you guys who haven't seen it will like it too. And for those of you who have seen it, feel free to check it out again... and again... and again. Go on.. I won't tell on ya! ;)

All I can say is Tom Cruise had better watch his back.... NOT!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Java Jive '08 Part 9: Begawan Solo

Our final destination in Java was the city of Solo, a small city (by Indonesian standards) of about half a million people, famous throughout Asia for the song Begawan Solo.

The city exuded a more glamorous persona than neighbouring Jogja, due to the presence of stately colonial buildings and statues of war heroes right in the middle of city streets.

That, and the fact that the train actually ran alongside the main street during rush hour!

Solo was supposed to be just an overnight stopover as our flight back to KL was from Solo airport early the next morning. Then Airasia called informing us that our flight had been cancelled and we were bumped to the evening flight!

So we found ourselves with an extra day to go sightseeing! We hooked up with a local tour guide named Patrick who offered to take us on a trip to the picturesque countryside outside of Solo.

So that was how we found ourselves on a scenic drive up the mountains that were covered with rice terraces and tea plantations.

Our fascination with the gorgeous views outside our car windows such as this made us rather grateful for Airasia's heavy handed scheduling gaffe.

A few times, Patrick stopped the car to allow us to go out and breathe the fresh and cool mountain air. At one junction, we spotted this waterfall far off in the distance. It was a pity we had to hurry back by 3.00pm, otherwise Patrick would have driven us for a picnic by the waterfall.

Still, the sights we were treated to were charming enough. There we were, happily snapping our pictures away, while the locals were hard at work in the rice fields.

It was a similar scene at the tea plantations, and the whole thing reminded me very much of Malaysia's very own Cameron Highlands.... minus the oftentimes overpowering smell of manure, of course. ;)

As we approached the top of one of the hills, Patrick stopped at a small temple named Candi Cetho. There was a wedding ceremony as well as a prayer ritual being held at the time, so the place was a bit crowded.

Candi Cetho is an ancient Hindu temple complex built in the 15th century during the last days of the Majapahit Empire. As previously mentioned, this temple is still used by the local Hindu worshippers for their rituals and celebrations.

The main temple is a pyramidal structure built atop nine levels of lesser temples symbolising the nine planes a man must journey through to reach the heavens.

The stone gates at the front of each level looked very similar to the ones in Bali. Indeed, the Hindu kings and their servants were driven out of central Java by the invading Islamic army and they fled to the neighbouring island of Bali bringing along their culture and religion.

At each level, there were small wooden huts that served as altars to various gods like the god of prosperity, god of healing, and god of protection.

Erm... methinks this is the altar to the god of fertility?

We had to be careful not to step on these small offerings and incense that were placed on the steps leading up to the main temple.

Then, as were busy listening to Patrick tell his story about the legend of the Hindu Wolf-king, the mist began to encroach into the temple slopes....

Fearing that the visibility on the way down would be too limited, we quickly made our way back to the foothill, but not before taking a pic of us 'leaping into the beyond'...

So down we went.... through a narrow footpath beside a tea plantation... and then Panda got one of his 'ideas' for a photo op...

So one by one, we trudged through the thick tea bushes.... I think Panda has watched too many of those song and dance Bollywood movies...

Our next stop was at another 15th century Hindu temple named Candi Sukuh.

This temple is famous for its distinctive thematic reliefs depicting life before birth and sexual education. Oh dear, were we going to see altars to the fertility gods again?

A lot of the reliefs and statues were defaced or destroyed after the fall of the Majapahit empire, and today the salvaged but disjointed pieces are arranged side by side as if to tell a story that has no beginning, no middle and no end.

Of course weathering has also taken its toll on the carvings and it was only recently that active conservation works have been undertaken to save what was left of this priceless ancient monument.

Its main monument is a simple pyramid structure with reliefs and statues in front of it, including three tortoises with flattened shells and a male figure grasping his penis. I do have the pic of the male figure, but I think we've all had enough of penis statues, right?

Wrong! Here the final pic of a relief with such a persuasion, I promise.

Having had our fill of the rice terraces, tea plantations, candis .. oh and a delicious lunch of goat meat satay, we headed to the airport for our much delayed flight back to KL.

It has been a hectic but extremely enjoyable trip for the three of us and I feel blessed to have been part of this ten-day trek across Java with my two best buddies. And guys, I sincerely apologise for the times when I stepped on toes or behaved badly or just plain irritated the shit out of you two (and I know there were plenty) and I hope you will forgive and forget, eh? ;)

Thursday, May 22, 2008

He Had Me At Hello

America just crowned their new idol and it's David. No, not David Archuleta as I thought would happen twelve weeks ago, but David Cook, a 25 year old bartender from Missouri.

He may not have started out as the hot favourite but his ability to interpret songs from just about any genre into an emo-rock performance began to garner him votes week after week like a slow burner. Soon many of Archie's fans jumped ship (including yours truly) and hopped onto Cookie's bandwagon even as one by one, the lesser idols fell by the wayside.

By the time the two David locked horns in the finale, it was already a forgone conclusion that the man who could rock out Billie Jean AND Always Be My Baby would join the elite few whom they call an American Idol.

He had so many standout performances throughout the competition, from the aforementioned Billie Jean to Roberta Flack's The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face to Phantom Of The Opera's Music Of The Night. For me, I will always remember the first time he caught my attention (and not let go since). It was way back during the round of 16 when he transformed Lionel Richie's Hello into an unrecogniseable but utterly fantastic rock ballad.

I guess you could say that David Cook had me at Hello.

Java Jive '08 Part 9: The Bird, The Pool and the Centre of The Universe

Our final day in Jogjakarta saw us on a city tour which took us to three main tourist spot: The Bird Market, The Water Castle and lastly the Sultan's Palace.

First up was Ngasem, the famous Bird Market. Yes, they sell birds here. All kinds of birds. Actually, in hindsight, I wondered if it was such a good idea to visit a bird market in a country with the highest incident of human bird-flu infection.

The front part of market was also a proper produce market where vegetables, fruits and meat were sold.

There were many types of grains, like rice, corn, wheat and barley, in various colours and grain size. Some were for human consumption, while others were for the birds.

A lot of the stalls at the market were tended to by the womenfolk, most of them rather elderly. The whole scene reminded me of the market in Kota Bahru. Very colourful and very matriachal.

Then, we saw the birds. Live cockatoos, doves, even chickens and ducks can be found here.

These are fighting cocks, all caged up and separated from each other, lest they start killing each other with no one to profit from their duel to the death!

Actually, we found out that the market also doubled as a pet store where one could buy any domesticated (and not so domesticated) animal one wishes, from Persian cats to poisonous cobras.

Awwww....sooo cuuuuttteeee!!!! I was so tempted to buy this bunny rabbit till I remembered we couldn't bring live animals on board the plane. Sigh...

A couple of hundred metres behind the market, nestled amongst the village houses lies the ruins of what was once the royal swimming pool also known as Tamansari.

But first, in order to reach the pool, we had to make our way through a series of underground tunnels.

I was definitely not complaining as it was getting quite hot outside and the sheltered concrete tunnels made for a very cool passage.

As we got back out onto ground level, this huge wall filled with the typical Indonesian style carvings greeted us. It's the front gate to the pool compound.

Also known as the Water Castle, back in the 17th century Tamansari was a recreation garden or a resting house for the Sultan and his erm.. entourage (if you get what I mean. Wink wink.)

Every day, the ladies would go for a swim in the pool, frolicking and generally trying to look graceful and sexy, while the Sultan would peer out from the viewing deck above the pool and decide who shall be keeping him company for that day.

Speaking of Sultans, it was time to visit the palace of the reigning Sultan of Yogyakarta or Kraton which means the royal abode.

Located almost exactly at the centre of the island of Java east to west, the palace is defined as the centre of the world or universe as the Javanese knew it.

We were given a short guided tour into a part of the palace grounds which comprised of a series of pavilions which housed the orchestral instruments, library, and also the meeting hall.

When we arrived, a religious recital was taking place, and this lady was performing the blessings for the Sultan on the occasion of his youngest daughter's impending wedding.

Outside, I chanced upon this funny contraption hanging precariously in one of the gazebos. I am not quite sure what it was, whether it was a very elaborate silk-making machine or a contraption that perhaps Samantha Jones would find useful. ;)

At another corner, the palace officials were having a meeting to discuss a very important business at hand - what to have for lunch later. Bakso or bakmie?

Our final stop on the tour was a visit to the school building where the royals were educated by teachers specially brought in from Holland and England. In one of the rooms hung the 'family tree's of every Sultan that ever reigned the land. The leaves symbolised how many offsprings that particular Sultan had in his lifetime.

Needless to say, this one had a rather quiet household. ;)

Up next: sing along with me ... Begawan... Solo.....