Saturday, July 30, 2011

West Java Highland Tea Tours

Tuckedin the highlands of West Java, away from the endless hustle engulfing Jakarta,tea estates harkening back to the Dutch colonial period have become Indonesia’sanswer to France’s famed vineyards or California’s Napa Valley.

Providing getaway seekers with a chance to savor a different world, these teaestates are drawing city dwellers and foreigners looking for a taste ofsomething out of the ordinary.

“Tea plantation tours offer something different,” said Jimmi Lapotulo, avisitor at the Goalpara Tea Estate in Sukabumi. “The natural beauty, thefragrance of tea leaves, the fresh air breeze — you can’t really find placeslike this anywhere else.”

Indonesia’s introduction to tea came in the 18th century, courtesy of the Dutchcolonialists. Java’s tea industry was painstakingly cultivated by DutchmanJacobus Isidorus Lonevijk Levien Jacobson, who arrived in Jakarta, thenBatavia, in 1827. For six years, Jacobson made exhaustive trips to China tobring back seeds, plants, workmen and materials, until he was able to start atea plantation in Bogor. The Indonesian tea industry continued to grow, and nowthe country is the fifth largest producer of tea in the world.

But it wasn’t until the late 1980s that these tea estates began drawingtourists, thanks to a collaborative initiative by the Indonesian government,state-owned plantations and travel bureaus.

Tea fields have been turned into hiking trails, hilly paths are dotted withmountain cyclists, processing factories offer educational and tasting tours andcolonial homes are now charming guesthouses. Here, vacationers can travel backto a bygone era and partake in ecological adventures without ever having to setfoot on an airplane.

Today, there are more than 30 state-owned tea plantations in West Java and ahandful of them are tapping into the growing tourism market.

“Developing tourism at other plantations was simple because the infrastructurewas already in place,” said Ali, a spokesman for Goalpara. “Malabar has a bigcolonial mansion and is close to a hot spring, and Gunung Mas is located at ahigh altitude, so it’s perfect for adventure sports.” Gunung Mas is another teaestate.

Goalpara’s high production targets mean it doesn’t have the time to promoteagrotourism as much as other estates, but Ali said tourists, both locals andforeigners, do make their way to the plantation.

“Locals like to come here to escape the noisy city life,” Ali said. “Here, theycan do lots of outdoor recreational activities — picnics, trekking, enjoyingthe cool weather and the view. It’s all very refreshing.”

According to Ali, tea estates are also popular getaway spots for Europeantourists, who enjoy the old-world charm.

“Most of the [foreign] tourists come from the Netherlands, because most ofthese plantations used to be owned by the Dutch,” Ali said. “Coming to the teaplantations is like a way for them to preserve the memory of their ancestors.There’s an emotional connection.”

Unlike a lot of ecotourism, which focuses on adventure travel, tea plantationtours are more relaxed. Vacationers can choose to participate in leisurely “teawalks” around the estate, accompanied by cool breezes and the scent offlowering shrubs.

At Malabar Tea Estate in Pangalengan, walkers can head to the nearby hot springafterward to soak their tired muscles; Gunung Mas in Puncak has a swimming poolwhere hikers can cool off.

However, adventurous vacationers, seeking more than just rest and relaxation,will also find plenty of activities to keep them occupied. The sloping, windingpaths of the plantations provide a perfect backdrop for challenging treks andmountain biking, while tea estates at higher elevations like Gunung Mas offersadrenaline junkies the chance to paraglide over Puncak’s rolling green hills.

In addition to refugees from the city and adventurers, West Java’s tea estatesare also drawing visitors with their educational tours.

“Coming here is not just about relaxation, but also about education,” Jimmisaid. “You drink tea every day, but a lot of us don’t know how it gets from theearth to our tea cup.”

Senari has worked at Gunung Mas for 35 years and now leads tours around theprocessing facility and the plantation.

“We get a lot of young tourists also,” Senari said. “Parents would come visitfor the weekend, bring back the tea, and their kids would want to come forthemselves to see how it was made.”

Tea estates like Goalpara and Gunung Mas have tours that allow visitors to walkthrough the shrubs (some close to 100 years old), partake in the tea pickingprocess, observe tea production and packaging, and sample the estate’s teas.

Many tour operators now offer tea-tasting getaways, which includetransportation and accommodation at a colonial plantation house, but escapingto these tea estates is simple to do on your own. All it takes is a three-hourdrive from Jakarta, and, if you can make it through the traffic, you’ll findyourself up in the cool hills, raising a steaming cup of antioxidants in saluteto the charms of tea-estate culture.

“I like to go on ecotours because it’s about preserving our natural wonders,”Jimmi said. “It’s about nurturing the environment and getting away from it all.It makes me feel younger every time I go.”

Additional reporting by Astrid Paramitha Lyssens & Lauren Zumbach.

Goalpara Tea Estate
Jl. Raya Goalpara, 43/92
Tel: 026 622 1500

Gunung Mas Tea Estate
Jl. Raya Puncak Cawas, Bogor
Tel: 025 125 2501

Monday, July 25, 2011

Controversial Buddha Bar becomes Bistro Boulevard

Across from Cut Meutia Mosque in Menteng stands BistroBoulevard restaurant and lounge with its classic Batavia architecture. Oncecontroversial for going by the name of Buddha Bar, the owners redesigned thevenue and the restaurant concept.

“The previous concept was not successful, but instead of giving up, we decidedto try something new,” said Riyan Mudadalam, a restaurant spokesman.

The interior of the 97-year-old building was transformed from a red, dimly litspace to a bright, white-walled one. The Buddha statutes are gone. The foyer,which also functions as a waiting room and gallery, is filled with sculpturesand large paintings. These items are numbered and prices are available uponrequest.

Bistro Boulevard now offers classic French cuisine with a modern twist. Themenu features classic dishes such as oysters, snails and steak tartare createdby executive chef Alex Ensor, who gained experience cooking French cuisine atthe Sydney Opera House restaurant.

Bistro Boulevard has been up and running for about a month, and an officiallaunch party is slated for September. Just last week, the restaurant hosted itsfirst Lazy Sunday, a monthly bazaar and music event.

Those aren’t the only changes. Prices have also been lowered. The average priceon the Buddha Bar ranged from Rp 200,000 ($23) to Rp 300,000, while thestarting price at Bistro Boulevard is Rp 35,000. That doesn’t mean, however,that you can’t run up a big bill here. A shared, meat-heavy meal at Bistro Barwill cost you around Rp 1 million.

Bistro’s homemade bread and butter are made from 16 ingredients including duckjus, garlic, tarragon, thyme and parsley. It has a strong, curry-like aftertaste, which is addictive when paired with French fries

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Sumbawa honey has become national icon

ForestryMinister Zulkifli Hasan said white honey from Sumbawa island`s forests hasbecome the icon of Indonesian honey because of its exclusive taste and quality.

"Because of its uniqueness, white honey from Sumbawa has become a nationalicon," the minister said when launching Nusantara Honey Week I hereTuesday.

Held for the very first time, the opening of Nusantara Honey Week lasting untilJuly 17 was among other things marked by a honey drinking party participated inby 10,000 people, most of them students.

The manager of the Museum of Indonesian Records MURI) Sri Widayati who alsotook part in the honey drinking party said the event would be listed as a newrecord because of the number of people who participated.

The record established by the honey drinking party surpassed that of a BeePollen eating event organized by beekeepers in Lumbang sub district,Probolinggo district, East Java, on November 29, 2008, in which 1,004 peopletook part.

Zulkifli said all parties must continue publicizing the uniqueness of Sumbawawhite honey that has become the icon of Indonesian honey, so that more and moretourists would visit Sumbawa.

The promotions should among other things popularize the notion that one cannotbe considered to have visited West Nusa Tenggara if one has not returned homewith a bottle of Sumbawa honey.

"People should be made to want to visit West Nusa Tenggara to savorSumbawa`s distinctive honey, just like me who is also visiting West NusaTenggara to taste the icon of Indonesian honey," he said.

Zulkifli said, the launching of the National Honey Week was intended to promoteproduction of honey as a healthy food, as well as to make Sumbawa known as ahoney production center.

In addition, the week was also organized to strengthen the image of Sumbawahoney products and foster the national community`s pride in domestic products,as well as to encourage the creation of honey production centers in otherregions.

According to data compiled by the West Nusa Tenggara forestry office, theprovince`s honey production in 2010 reached 125 thousand tons. The main honeyproducer is the Sumbawa Forest Honey Network (JMHS). The 2010 production figuredoes not include honey extracted in Lombok island

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Batik's Living Heritage on Display in New Show

Batikis more than a mere textile. Its meanings and significance transcend itscolors, motifs and fabrics.

In Java, people traditionally wear certain batik designs to show their socialstature and power, or to communicate their best wishes for the future onimportant occasions such as coronations and weddings. For many people, batik ismore than just an item of clothing — it is intertwined with every aspect oftheir lives.

Batik also fosters relationships among people from different countries andcultural backgrounds. The latest exhibition at the National Gallery,“Indonesian Batik: A Living Heritage,” is evidence of how batik has broughttogether people from many different walks of life and bound them as lifelongfriends.

The exhibition offers an insight into batik’s history, its current developmentsand future possibilities.

More than 80 vintage batik pieces belonging to German and Indonesian collectorsare now on display at the gallery in Central Jakarta.

“Batik is a trademark of Indonesia,” Norbert Baas, Germany’s ambassador toIndonesia, said at the exhibition opening on Wednesday.

“Batik, with its rich colors, motifs and meanings, has always charmed visitorsto Indonesia. I think it has a lot of potential. I see a great future inbatik.”

The exhibition is part of Germany and Indonesia (Jerin), a series of culturalcelebrations to mark 60 years of diplomatic ties between the two countries.

Martin Krummeck, deputy managing director of the German-Indonesian Chamber ofIndustry and Commerce (Ekonid), is the coordinator of the exhibition.

“Batik is not only found in Yogyakarta and Solo, but everywhere in Indonesia,”he said. “Here we want to show you a glimpse into the huge range of batik andthe many different cultures that have influenced its styles, colors andmotifs.”

The “Indonesian Batik” exhibition will run at the National Gallery until Mondaybefore traveling to East Java.

“I think more people should come to this exhibition, where they can actuallylearn something, rather than going to the malls and spending a lot of money,”said Johannas, an exhibition visitor. “It’s a very informative andwell-executed exhibition.”

Thursday, July 14, 2011

American author traces Rimbaud's mysterious Java journey

In1876 French poet Arthur Rimbaud joined the Dutch colonial army, sailed to theIndonesian island of Java and then deserted and fled into the jungle. No oneknows what happened next.

More than 130 years later, an American author followed in the Frenchman'sfootsteps to try and solve the mystery.

"It's like a Sherlock Holmes story," said Jamie James, alluding tothe detective work needed to trace where the enigmatic Rimbaud, who was born in1854 and died just before turning 37, wandered to.

Nearly 200 letters by the tortured poet, who described his process of attainingvisionary insights as "a long, involved and logical derangement of all thesenses," map out all -- or nearly all -- of his travels in Africa and theMiddle East.

But little detail has escaped Java island about what transpired in Indonesia,then a Dutch colony.

"It remains one of the most elusive enigmas among the many that constitutehis tumultuous life and is often overlooked outside Rimbaud circles,"James wrote in "Rimbaud in Java: The Lost Voyage," published lastyear.

"He never wrote anything about Java because he was a fugitive. He couldhave been arrested" by the Dutch for desertion, said the Texan, who haslived in Indonesia since 1999 and has been a Rimbaud enthusiast sincechildhood.

The only fact known about Rimbaud's eastern sojourn is that he embarked on June10, 1876, at age 21, for the Dutch East Indies, or modern-day Indonesia.

In a typically whimsical decision Rimbaud, who wrote the anti-militarist"The Sleeper in the Valley", embarked on the journey after signing upfor six years in the Dutch colonial army.

"It was the call of money and the Orient," said James, adding that300 florins were paid to all recruits, a small fortune at the time.

Rimbaud, he said, grabbed the opportunity to finally reach the East, which hadattracted him so much.

On July 22 he and hundreds of other recruits arrived in Jakarta, or what wasthen called Batavia, to join their garrison at Salatiga, a village in centralJava perched on the foothills of Merlabu, a dormant volcano.

In Java "The man with the wind at his heels" -- as fellow poet andfriend Paul Verlaine once described Rimbaud's wanderlust -- had never been thisfar from home.

Author of "The Drunken Boat," and a big fan of alcohol, Rimbaud musthave been overjoyed that gin was not only permitted but encouraged by the Dutchas a way of instilling bravery in soldiers.

"It's possible he kept a journal and it could turn up in a flea market inParis," he said.

"But no French poet has been subject to so much research, so chances ofdiscovery are slim.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Rendang Among Top 15 Best Foods in the World

CNNGopublished an article last week that ranks the 50 most delectable eats on theplanet, and one of Indonesia's most popular dishes, rendang, made it onto thelist at number 11.

Unfortunately, neither nasi goreng, sate ayam nor Indomie made the culinaryhall of fame, with rendang being the spice-rich country's only native cuisineto make the cut.

The article, titled “World’s 50 Most Delicious Foods,” did not specify whatsort of criteria it used to compile the list. It only says, “we’ve scoured theplanet for what we think are 50 of the most delicious foods ever created.” Andby delicious, it suggested, “foods worth traveling the world to gorge on.”

The entry on rendang first introduces how to make the dish and what goes intoit, before explaining to the readers what rendang can do to food buffs.

“Beef is slowly simmered with coconut milk and a mixture of lemongrass,galangal, garlic, turmeric, ginger and chilies, then left to stew for a fewhours to create this dish of tender, flavorful bovine goodness.

I sure hope no vigilante group will declare war on Malaysia over this — and Ihope no Malaysians send CNN a letter claiming that rendang is actually theirs.Take this with a pinch of salt, please.

Topping the list is massaman curry from neighboring Thailand, which the articledescribes as “spicy, coconutty, sweet and savory, its combination of flavorshas more personality than a Thai election.”

Coming in at second and third place is Italy's Neapolitan pizza and Mexico'schocolate, respectively.

But the top 10 list suggests that, in the culinary world, Asian hegemonyprevails — Japan's sushi (4), China's Peking duck (5), Thai's tom yum goong (8)all made it to the top, as well as the laksa and curry.

Europe was represented by the pizza and Germany's famous hamburger, while theonly African cuisine joining the culinary elite is Gabon’s chicken muamba.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Chinese-Indonesians celebrate once-forbidden roots

Atroupe of lion dancers jerk and sway down a busy Jakarta street to usher in theChinese New Year, moving to the beat of traditional instruments and handing outred envelopes inscribed with good wishes in Chinese characters.

Such a scene would be unthinkable just over a decade ago, when former dictatorSuharto ruled Indonesia with an iron hand and disallowed any expression of theChinese minority's own heritage.

"If you opened a shop with Chinese characters on it, it'd be closeddown," said Adrian Yap, 25.

In 1967, two years after a failed coup by the Indonesian Communist Party,Suharto cracked down on Chinese art, music, literature, language and othercultural expressions.

But since the dictator was ousted in 1998, these have flowered again in theworld's most populous Muslim nation, where the mostly non-Islamic Chineseminority makes up only a small fraction of its 240 million inhabitants.

In 2003, the Lunar New Year was declared a national holiday and this year -- asthe nation marks the 10th year of unrestricted celebrations -- nearly all ofJakarta's glitzy malls are festooned for the occasion.

Red-and-gold banners with Chinese characters decorate many shopping centres,and Lunar New Year parades are scheduled around the city.

Workers at Jakarta's upscale Plaza Indonesia mall greet shoppers in traditionalChinese clothes as Chinese music wafts from the speakers.

Across the city, passersby are greeted by colourful banners wishing them ahappy "Imlek," as the locals call the holiday.

"When I was growing up the celebrations were all hush-hush, said JevelinWendiady, a 24-year-old university teacher.

"Everybody knew that during Imlek you would visit relatives at home. Butyou wouldn't go out to malls like you do now. You'd have no idea it was Imlek,it was like any other day," she said.

"Today when you walk around there is atmosphere, decorations, music.Outside, there are even fireworks at night."

The festive season is not only embraced by Chinese-Indonesians but also byretailers, who look forward to more business.

In the run up to the Lunar New Year newspapers have been filled with hotel andrestaurant adverts, offering special new year's packages and deals.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Jakarta Biennale Exhibit Challenges Perceptions

Spectatorsstare at a red, circular statue standing on two stubby legs, with dozens ofhands reaching out from the surface of the sphere, each pointing a revolver. Nodirection is out of the statue’s aim, and as visitors pass by, the red orbseems to be drawing its weapon on them.

The artwork is titled “Total Survival,” a piece by Deni Rahman who said hewanted to criticize the culture of violence in Indonesia. Deni, a mixed mediaYogyakarta-based artist, is one of more than 30 participants in the “Game,Leisure and Gadget Victims” exhibition at Central Park mall in West Jakarta.

The exhibition is part of the Jakarta Biennale XIV, the largest, most ambitiousand spread out art show in the capital, which kicked off on Dec. 15. TheBiennale is an attempt to bring avant-garde artwork to the doorsteps ofJakartans rather than limiting the pieces to museums or galleries. “We want tointroduce contemporary art to the public,” curator Seno Joko Suyono said.

Another piece lurking in the Central Park mall is a mannequin of a beautifulgirl wearing pink gloves and a paper hat with the word “Heaven.” Dozens ofinfusion bottles are also attached to the girl’s hands, in an installationpiece called “Superego Trendy Fashion” by Rocka Radipa.

Game, Leisure and Gadget Victim
Until Jan. 15
Central Park mall,
West Jakarta