More Yogyakarta: Ullen Sentalu

One of the best things to see around the city was the Ullen Sentalu Museum. If there was one must see, this is it. In short, I’d describe it as the key which unlocks the meaning of Javanese culture and the continuities from Buddhism and Hinduism to Islam, from tradition to modernity. Come here before seeing any of the museums in the city.

There is already a heartfelt blog article about it here:

The building, exhibits, guide, and location all fuse together to create a continuous, meaningful, and excellent museum experience, surely one of the best in the world. In other words, this is the iPhone of museum, as far as end-to-end integrated design goes.

They do not allow pictures save for in one room and their courtyard, so here’s one room (they brought out a tea for us here). I need to find the courtyard picture…




Myanmar Reads

It was far easier to find good stuff to read before visiting Myanmar than for Indonesia.

First of all, a good news source: – the site is good for SEAsia in general

Here’s a short list:

For those interested in Human Rights, the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs posted the transcript of the hearing “Burma’s Challenge: Democracy, Human Rights, Peace, and the Plight of the Rohingya” online, along with video and testimony. This is also just a good way to see the US government in action.

I’m also looking for a good history of Bagan


Jogja’s Art Scene

Yogyakarta is the heart of Java’s ¬†art scene, as well as the inheritor of past Hindu and Buddhist kingdoms. Here are some links to learn more about the arts and culture of the place:

Beyond Jogja, here are some more resources on Indonesian literature and art:

Also see:

A History of Classical Malay Literature. By Sir Richard Winstedt. Journal of the Malayan Branch Royal Asiatic Society, Vol. 31, Part 3, June 1958. Pp. 261



Urban Jakarta via Data Visualizations

They say a picture speaks a thousand words. “They” are totally wrong. With well crafted geospatial data visualizations, a picture can literally convey billions of words. Apparently Jakarta is the tweetiest/most tweet-y city in the world.

Check out the map of Jakarta’s twitter activity below, and do click on the map of the world’s twitter activity for context. More of a breakdown here.

Jakarta map

Kudos to – for making it!


Javanese History – Jogja focus

We plan to visit Jakarta, Jogjakarta, and Surabaya in Java.

To start, it was exciting to stumble upon the works of the Royal photographer of the Yogyakarta Sultanate, Cephas.

Black and white portrait of a man in the late years wearing a songkok hat

Thereafter, I quickly realized that the history of Java is very poorly documented in English. Case in point, the Babad Tanah Jawi (“The History of Java”), a seminal text about….yes, the history of Java, hasn’t even been translated into English. It recounts the spread of Islam in the region, which is kind of important.

I thought I’d start by learning about important historic figures and found a few resources. I’ll update the following list as I go:

  • Destiny: The Life of Prince Diponegoro of Yogyakarta, 1785-1855 is the best book I found about Diponegoro, who is one of Indonesia’s national heroes (literally, it turns out there is a formalized list). What I was really looking for was a book on Yogyakarta, the artistic and cultural heart of Java, but unfortunately it doesn’t seem like there’s much. The author’s foreword includes a heartfelt note about the sorry state of a lot of Indonesian manuscripts.

  • The Wali Songo, or the Nine Saints (loosely translated, “Wali” means one close to God) brought Islam to Java. While I didn’t come across a great book in English on the topic, I did stumble across this crouching-tiger hidden-dragon style TV show. Pretty exciting! I’m sure this is what history was actually like.

Wali Songo2.JPG

Wali Songo

In terms of where the Wali Songo are buried, there is this map online (below). People still pray at the mosques adjacent to the sites. I haven’t read it yet, but a National University of Singapore student wrote a dissertation the Wali Songo in popular culture today.

  • Sunan Ampel is one of the more well-known of the Wali Songo. Interestingly, he is ethnically of the Champa, which is a minority group that includes both Hindus and Muslims. Unfortunately, they tend to be neglected in places like Viet Nam and Cambodia, but that story hasn’t really hit headlines yet.

More on the Wali Songo coming up soon. Until then:

How modern Western Muslims understand the Wali Songo – Cambridge’s Dr. Tim Winter illustrates – fast forward to about 50.”