By Catherine Mills (Semester 8/Feb 1999 & Semester 22/Feb 2006)
Curtin University/Private Participant

After having conducted her honours research while in Yogya with ACICIS in 1999, Catherine decided to do another semester of in-country study again in 2006 and attended classes at UGM in Yogkyarta.

Wah! What joy to be there again!

Yes, there were some changes and mostly, at the beginning of 2006, a general air of greater prosperity. I noticed:

  • new shopping malls (although they did not stand up to the earthquake)
  • new bookstores such as the second Social Agency shop in Jalan Simanjuntak
  • new stores selling mobile telephones and/or digital equipment,
  • new CD and VCD stores (rental and sales, worth a visit),
  • new houses,
  • fewer holes in the trotoar,
  • fewer warung tenda on the pavement, formerly run by people who had lost their jobs to the 1997 monetary crisis.
  • UGM sported a fresh coat of paint to worthily celebrate its 60th birthday and its grounds were much better tended and organized than in the past. The Arts Faculty library catalogue was in the process of being computerized, and major assignments (in the Arts Faculty at least) had to sport the pretty university logo on their front pages in order to be deemed acceptable: in brief, things were becoming more systematic, at least in appearance.
  • Taman Sari had been restored and re-decorated.

As far as people’s behaviour was concerned, there were a few changes as well:

  • Most taxi drivers used their meters automatically without being told. I called them with my mobile and found them consistently safe and reliable.
  • The traffic was relatively less chaotic than it used to be.
  • Females wearing jilbabs were now the majority and Islamic fashion shops were clearly in – along with the girls’ fashion magazine “Muslimah”.
  • A slight coolness was occasionally shown towards a bule person or bule persons but I never felt threatened in five months on that account. A friendly and open attitude generally made you well-accepted and was able to gain you warm friendships all round.
  • Lastly, the press was much freer than it was in 1999, reflecting the more liberal political climate. For example, during the Abupera/Freeport episode, some journalists openly aired the view in mainstream papers that it was the Papuans’ right to seek refuge in other countries after all. This went against the official national discourse but was published nevertheless. More generally, cases of corruption among high-ranking officials often made the front page of daily newspapers when, under former President Suharto, they would usually have been hushed up.

Fortunately, Yogya was still recognisably the same as before; although Prambanan and a few other obyek wisata were damaged by the earthquake, I feel confident that they will be rebuilt in due course, and not for the first time either.

More insidiously threatening for its cultural heritage, I think, is the current puritanical trend, combined with the fact that fewer and fewer educated young people know Javanese. Fully aware of those changes, which some of the blame on the nefarious influence of nearby yet rival Solo, a number of Yogyakartans young and old show themselves determined to defend fiercely their region’s tolerant and sophisticated culture: good for them, because if/when I go back in another seven years’ time, I want everything to feel as wonderfully familiar and “typically Yogya” as it did last semester!