Why I Keep Coming Back to Yogyakarta
The bridge. That’s what I want to say when a friend asked why I choose to stay here.
I was four at that time.
The sky started to darken, the lights on the sideways flickering and the rickshaw transport us lazily crawling through the empty street. Few pools of water splashed, emitting a pleasant sound as we crossed that bridge. The scent of the after rain is so strong in the air and there is a stoic patience of the city. “Easy,” it says. Like I don't need to worry about my destination.
That simple frame of the bridge somehow imprinted in my brain and never leave. I left the city a week later and carry on, hearing the story here and there from the distance, moved from one island to the other island within the country.
Yogyakarta history as a city is quite well documented. 400 years ago, a commoner without a king bloodline named Sutawijaya rebelled against his foster father and build his own kingdom right in the middle of Java island. Kingdom come, kingdom go they say. There is more powerful one come before his, but nothing last more. It retains its structure even after the whole country declares itself as a republic.
In 1946, Indonesia capital moved temporarily to Yogyakarta, before moved back again to Jakarta. Later this city becomes one to the most important education hub in Indonesia but never able to grow itself beyond that.
Some businessman and woman I know whispering their disdain about how hard it is to build a business in this city and push for changes. There is this story about the plan to build a highway to Yogyakarta that almost botched as Sultan think that small merchant wouldn’t be able to sell the merchandise if the plan comes true.
This is a city that resistant to change. And business hates that attitude.
It’s not only the old guard, but the young one also think and view the same. One of the most famous slogans of the city, “Yogya Ora Didol” (Yogyakarta is not for sale) is part of the people verse and help to understand why you can’t find a skyscraper building here.
The square which located in the front of the palace is one of the most bare squares you’ll ever see. No fountain, no solid paving covering it, no garden, nothing. While every year there is a celebration happening, most of the day it spends its time being a single rectangular square with two trees in the middle, and solid soil cover most of the surface.
It captures the essence of the city. In the world that always changes, and technology close the distance and border, it prefers things to remain the same and accessible for the commoner.
A paradox really, as a lot of student coming to Yogyakarta and most of them are quite progressive. Yogyakarta is used to see the student antic who doing strange things to understand themselves and become very tolerant in the process. People quick to forgive if you clip them while driving, and generally doesn't care whether you are Muslim, Christian, or just an atheist.
It what makes me fall in love with Yogyakarta and always come back again here. I’m coming back 14 years after I cross that bridge and then left for Jakarta. I’m coming back again 25 years later when I’m a little bit older and decide to build my family and career here.
Someone who I admire says that you should not put an attribute to yourself. Detach yourself from the origin, hobby or your company. Detach all of your attributes as it would stifle progress and put a blind in front of your eyes to the further change. While I love this idea and can relate to it, the realisation that I will keep coming back to this city make me accept that Yogyakarta already become part of my identity.
In 2002, a few days after I take care of all of the university paperwork, I decided to take my time to wander around. I walk passing through the famous Tugu and Malioboro and then decided to go to east from a point called “Yogyakarta Zero”. Two minutes walking and I stunned to saw it. The bridge. It’s still there! I recognize it as the back of my hand. It doesn’t change a single bit, become extremely loyal to the image that glued to my four years old body. I remember it when I was 4, and I started to believe it when I was 18.
More than infrastructure, a city is more deeply coloured by its content. The people here. The activities. The way they drive. The way they earn money. The way they greet each other. It fosters a feeling of particular flow for me. This is a city of the present that keeps lingering in the past tense. A place where a warm melancholy retained as it's people relentlessly trying to stop the time.