By Jordan Newton (Semester 17/Aug 2003 & Semester 18/Feb 2004)
University of New South Wales

Why read books in Yogya when you’ve got mountains to climb, temples to see and some kind of nightlife to attend to? Well I’m not saying those things are nothing when it comes to reading books, but it really is great for the language as well as for research purposes later if you can read books in Indonesian as if you were reading them in English. With a great understanding of the language you find yourself getting more meaning out of the information being presented to you rather than it just being a vocab search. This is especially important if you want to read Indonesian calls on things like human rights, the elections, role of the military and such which are topics which you might only be able to find one or two books on in Australia. That and for those who like the more entertainment side of books, being at the crossroads between Asian and Western worlds you’ll find more than enough translated comics not only from America, but also from the capital of the Eastern comic world, Japan as well as local Indonesian productions.

I noticed as long as I was in Yogya, if people were buying books they were buying them almost exclusively from Gramedia and Periplus. I say nothing bad about these places, but not being particularly loaded with money those two options were certainly two of the most difficult for me myself to partake in. Though like all people I started out as a regular at Gramedia, once you get to know other places good ole Gramed gets shoved right down to the bottom of the list. Before listing off the places which are worthwhile looking at if you are after books in Yogya, I thought it might be worthwhile just saying some extra general points about looking for books and reading in Indonesian.

Firstly, don’t expect that you will be able to straight away read in depth books on human rights law in Indonesian. You can try, but it is a MASSIVE strain on the brain, because there will be lots of new words and you will be doing more dictionary reading rather than the book. The result of this is that you’re really only reading vocab and not reading MEANING. To be perfectly honest there’s no quick way around this one, it will take time before you can read thick books in Indonesian. However, so that you are reading and expanding vocab little bit by little bit, I highly recommend starting of with comics. Yes, that’s right, little kiddy comics. Myself being a great fan of the Dragonball TV series at home, I took to buying the comics here, others I know of bought some Donald Duck comics, also quite popular here. It is a great way to get used to reading things in Indonesian. Why? Firstly because comics don’t greatly strain the brain in terms of thinking – characters only have small speech bubbles to talk in so it keeps the amount of text you read to a small, manageable amount. What’s more, as juvenile as it might sound, you have PICTURES!! Yes when Son Goku is waving about his magic staff like Monkey Magic and the characters are constantly talking about ‘tongkat ajaib’ things start to make sense… Added to that, as it is a comic you will become very familiar with the type 2 passive sentence. Comics are in ‘informal’ Indonesian in the sense that they use ‘aku’ and ‘kau’ for example, however this is somewhat poetic and you’ll have lots of sentences which are like the sinetrons on tv (‘You, I will kill – Kau akan kubunuh!). But rather than just boring grammar, you will find there are also a fair few ‘-in’s being thrown in as well as a few slang words which are great to get a laugh out of people when you use them in the real world. In reading comics you still will need a dictionary at your side, but its much less stressful than trying to straight away tackle something on the relations between the military and government post-reformasi.

Secondly, be careful of what you buy. Think carefully about the book your about to take to the cashier. Although there are lots of books to choose from on some topics, be aware that many of them may be absolutely useless and a waste of money. Try and find some authors that you know will be quality. If you have absolutely no idea of which authors are good or not, try and look for decent looking publishers. For example stuff on Islam and Islam in politics which comes from LKiS is generally quality. On the other hand there are times when it might be interesting to buy stuff which seems to lack quality or which has a topic which would be considered completely outrageous in Australia. Books defending Abu Bakr Ba’asyir, Osama bin Laden and describing Zionist designs on the Middle East or Christian designs on South East Asia are great to pick up for the fact that you wont have any hope whatsoever finding them in Australia and give you insights on why some points of view have gained popularity in Indonesia which are considered completely out of the field in Australia. Many of these books, though obviously heavily biased (with the language to prove it) often include information which you probably haven’t heard of before. I picked up one on Abu Bakr Ba’asyir which included some of his statements during his trial for example, which provided a different perspective than the lines we are feed on news services in Australia (that is to say that anything that groups like his say which does not include the words ‘jihad’ and ‘kill infidels’ is edited out because its not ‘interesting). Of course keep in mind that everything you are reading is coming from a particular point of view, and just as in Australia is not gospel.

Finally, don’t mess around buying books which have been translated into Indonesian from English. You can look for those books at home and will get more out of them in English rather than in wonky Indonesian translated from English. Same goes for books IN English here, you’ve got all the time in the world to buy books in English in Australia, why waste time buying them here when there’s stuff in Indonesian you have no hope of finding in Australia?

Now with those few (long) points out of the way, here are the places to buy books.

Gramedia (Jalan Sudirman & on the lower level of Malioboro Mall)

To be honest it is a quality bookshop. Has a good range, but still some books which are an absolute waste of time creep in. If you think in terms of Australian dollars its seriously is cheap (the books in Indonesian at least), with cheap ones maybe being about 15,000rp (at the time of this being written, that is about A$2.50), expensive ones being 90,000rp (A$15) and books in English starting at 100,000rp (A$16) and going up to the heavens. The books in English have their own section and for some bizarre reason seem to very frequently be about Japan and China rather than Indonesia. For books picture art, sculptures and such which have lots of pictures, expect to pay heaps. Japanese comics in Indonesian are usually 10,000rp at the most. Look for your maps of Sumatra, Bali, Yogya, Central Java and so on here too as they are not terribly expensive.

Periplus (lower level of Malioboro Mall)

Looking for books in English this is the place to go. A few books on Indonesian politics and history but seems more concentrated on Indonesian art and culture kind of books. Also has Australian magazines and a good selection of business/news magazines as well. This is a foreigners bookshop, so expect to pay heaps more than you would at other places, but its the best spot for books in English.

Social Agency Baru (Jalan Prof. Yohannes(Sagan) & Jln Gejayan)

There no doubt will be a few of you living in Sagan, and seriously Social Agency is probably one of the best places to buy books. Books in English are few and far between, but it has an almost Gramedia-like selection of books on topics such as history, politics, philosophy and religion. The best bit about Social Agency is…. the DISCOUNT!!! That’s right, read the price on the book label, disappointed that its 80,000rp? Take it to the cashier and all of a sudden it becomes 50,000rp! Why? Because for (as far as I know) all of the Social Agency stock has a 15-35% discount from the marked price if you are a student. I’ve never had to show a student card though, just straight away got the discount price. You’re crazy to buy at Gramedia if the same book is at Social Agency. In fact because the range at Gramedia is only slightly better than at Social Agency I highly recommend scouting what you want at Gramedia, then heading back up the road to Social Agency to buy. Comics however are few and far between and the price isn’t greatly different from Gramedia (because they’re already cheap as is). Also expect to find Indonesian mini-magazines (especially Islamic ones) and possibly even some old (not heaps old) editions of some journals (one I have frequently seen is on women and conflict) in Indonesian also. All in all this is the highly recommended one from me.

Toga Mas (corner of Jalan Gejayan and Ring Road Utara)

This one is far from campus, but it’s like Social Agency so still worth a visit. Bus routes 3 & 7 go past here. Has a discount scheme like Social agency, though there is the marked price as well as mention of how much of a discount you will get already written on the tag. The cheaper the book the smaller the discount. Here is the place to go if you’re looking for books on more ‘fringe’ kind of politics stuff like things defending Abu Bakr Ba’asyir and explaining the threat of Zionism.

Jln. Terban

If you know what kind of prices you should pay for stuff (price shop at Gramedia or Social Agency first before coming here) you can probably get cheap books here, but have to bargain. Books on religion and some stuff on history abound. Not heaps on politics. Most of the stuff is actually for high school students or people trying to get into university.

Jl. K.H. Ahmad Dahlan (at the end of Jln. Malioboro – the Monumen Serangan Umum, turn right… the bookshops will eventually be on the left side of the road)

I found two little shops here. This seems to be some kind of Muhammadiyah area so if you’re looking for stuff on Islam in general or Muhammadiyah in particular this is the place to go. At election time too here the guys were selling Amien Rais stickers and shirts for those interested in political paraphernalia.

Raja Buku Murah (I think that’s the name, Jln Gejayan, right next door to the Social Agency Baru on Gejayan)

Cheap books, few on politics and history. Lots of cheap books on Islam, as well as things like Iqra books (learning to read Qur’anic Arabic) and such.