31 August 2013
Dodging girls in the maze of Yogyakarta’s water castle
I could see them coming. Most were too shy but there’d always be one who would be more daring, who after a quick glance at me, would giggle with her friends, and then approach me: “Excuse me, mister”. This little game happened so often that I lost count of it. I knew exactly what would ensue – the same questions, and the same answers that I would give, over and over again, but I’d always make it seem as if I were enjoying myself, as if the questions were new to me.
They were high school or university students practising their English during their school holidays, although this looked more like an assignment – the freakin’ same assignment! The cutest part of that type of experience was in Bromo where adorable eight-year old girls would ask the very same questions but would in addition request a signature, probably as a proof that they didn’t jot down fake answers on their notepads. Funnily enough, these interviews only happened at popular landmarks of Java and never in Bali.
As I was walking in the labyrinth that the Taman Sari water castle had become over time, dwellings having sprung up, I would smile broadly when those students would figure out ways to approach me, either blocking the way or going first into the opposite direction before suddenly making a U-turn. I have to admit I did try to gracefully avoid some of those groups when I had just spent ten minutes answering the same questions.
I guess I wasn’t paying attention to my surroundings and therefore unknowingly walked through the back entrance of the water pools the sultan had built a couple of centuries ago, together with the construction of a surprising and wonderful underground mosque (that I wrote about in a previous story). It was particularly refreshing to just see transparent, blue water in those ex-bathing pools. The sultan in fact also enjoyed “refreshing” views of his concubines from the overlooking fenced window, from where he would choose the lucky one.
The bathing complex is the only area that has been fully restored in Taman Sari, the rest of the water castle having been occupied by some 3,000 people, the Kampung Taman settlement. I had a bit of a chat with the lady you can see laughing on the portrait picture, whose family had been living there for the past four generations but was now forced by the sultan to free up the place for “restoration” – and, presumably, commercial – purposes. I have forgotten her name but I was surprised, considering the humbleness of her home which is just next to the underground mosque and next to multiple pigeon cages, that she had been to France. She was a happy person and bumping into her multiple times during my wanderings in this maze of alleys really made me feel as if she belonged to this place, forever associating my memory of the place with her.