Times they are a changing in Myanmar

Serene: Temples pepper the plain in the ancient city Bagan.
Serene: Temples pepper the plain in the ancient city Bagan.

The budget airplane to Mandalay was rolling along the apron of Bangkok’s Don Mueang Airport ready for take off. The flight attendants — all with model good looks — were giving safety instructions.

Excitement started to swell in me. In just one-and-a-half hours, I would land in Myanmar: the fast-changing homeland of Aung San Suu Kyi. The plane picked up speed. There was no turning back. I flicked through my guidebook, a Lonely Planet published in 2011 that I bought months before but had not read. It seemed appropriate to read the “need to know” page before touching down.

My eye scanned a heading printed in blue font: “cash-only economy”. My heart rate quickened. “Myanmar ATMs don’t accept international cards”. It continued: “Budget carefully and get the right kind of bills before your plane lands in Yangon. Otherwise, you’ll end up in financial trouble”.

I was a couple of hundred feet in the air already. I landed in Mandalay and was sure I was in trouble. With only Rp 600,000 (US$58.2) in my pocket and not a single dollar or kyat in hand, I had visions of sleeping on the streets of Mandalay before making my way to the Indonesian consulate in Yangon to beg them to take me in.

I had been feeling that Myanmar was calling me to visit. The military junta finally released opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi after years of house arrest in 2010. News reports from Myanmar’s Rakhine state detailed the deadly ethnic and religious conflicts between Burmese Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims. There seemed to a parallel to Indonesia, which overthrew its despot long before Myanmar, and which has also been struggling with religious conflict.

My one-week plan was to visit the dusty commercial town of Mandalay, made famous by songs inspired by Rudyard Kipling’s poem Road to Mandalay, followed by a stop at the ancient city Bagan, where thousands of red-brick pagodas stretch across the plains.

While there are no direct flights from Jakarta to Yangon or Mandalay, the cities with international airports in Myanmar, budget airlines such as Air Asia serve routes such as Singapore-Yangon or Bangkok-Yangon and Bangkok-Mandalay.

The country is transitioning from a reclusive dictatorship hit hard by embargoes to a nation eyed by foreign investors. The economic sanctions that cut off Myanmar (and its ATMs) from the rest of the world were lifted last year. This saved me from a life of indigence on the streets of Mandalay, as I found that the ATMs there and Bagan did indeed accept international cards, thank you very much.

Mandalay, the capital of Burma before the British takeover in 1885, is a bustling town with rows of five-story buildings. Here and there, you will find monasteries with lush trees. While Buddhism is the religion of the majority of Mandalay population, it’s a city of many different faiths. Min, the taxi driver who took me around, said that his wife was Roman Catholic, while he was a Buddhist who believes in nats (spirits). In honor of his wife, he can recite the Lord’s Prayer.

If flying on Air Asia, the airline provides free shuttle bus from the airport to the city, which is an hour’s ride. Mid-range hotels costing between $20 and $40 a night are plentiful.

I chose the Royal City Hotel, which had a rooftop terrace that was good for watching the sunset. Also visible from the rooftop of the hotel, which was near the Mandalay Palace, were the dome of a mosque, the spire of a church and the stupas of the pagoda — as well as ubiquitous satellite-dishes buildings.

Take a boat from the pier to Mingun Paya and climb the giant unfinished red brick stupa. A self-appointed guide said that it was forbidden to climb, as there are cracks and deep cuts between the bricks due to an earthquake. However, teenage boys and young couples were climbing the structure anyway, and I followed suit. From atop Mingun, you can see the river cutting through Mandalay and the white pagodas from afar.

Beautiful: Whitewashed pagodas surround the Kuthodaw Pagoda in Mandalay.

Beautiful: Whitewashed pagodas surround the Kuthodaw Pagoda in Mandalay.

Mandalay city itself is home to interesting places to discover. There is a Big Ben replica in the Ma Soe Yein Nu Kyaung monastery, where hundreds of monks in red robes wander about in the compound carrying books. A friendly monk gave me a tour after seeing me taking pictures of the clock. We entered a meditation building where the fifth floor was a prayer, complete with a statue of Buddha and fake mango trees.

The beautiful teak monastery Shwe In Bin Kyaung is worth a visit. Mango trees surround the compound, with fruit falling to the ground. Flocks of crows can be seen flitting from branch to branch above the meditation house where people sit silently for hours.

The nicest place for sightseeing and people watching is U Bein Bridge in Amarapura. Fishermen line up with their boats near the bridge and throw their nets into the water. Schoolchildren in green sarongs and with faces adorned
with liquid face powder from Jataka trees walk along the bridge to school. The Burmese use the face paint to protect their skin from sunburn, says Min.

On the road: Girls walk to school over the U Bein Bridge in Amarapura.

On the road: Girls walk to school over the U Bein Bridge in Amarapura.

Due to time limitations, I chose to fly to Bagan from Mandalay. Another option would have been to take a two-day boat trip along Irrawaddy River. Flying has its advantage though as you can see the thousands of Buddhist temples across the plains.

According to the Lonely Planet Guidebook, the Bagan temples were built during a two-and-a half century building burst that began during the reign of Anawrahta, who developed an edifice complex after converting to Theravada Buddhism in the 11th century. His successors continued his building frenzy.

The result is a magnificent sight. Without any other modern buildings — only the domes of the pagoda — I felt as if I was journeying not only to another place, but to another time.

To explore the temples, bicycle rentals are an inexpensive and convenient choice. A strange security policy in Bagan bans foreigners from riding motorbikes, according Aung Myo, a taxi driver in Bagan. He said that even riding as a passenger was not allowed.

I rode my rental bike on dirt road that led to mysterious temples. Sticking to the dirt road will ensure that you avoid other tourists too.

It is still possible in Bagan to sit on top of a pagoda by yourself while watching the sunset over the horizon. The times, however, are changing in Myanmar. So, pack your bags and go.

— Photos by JP/Prodita Sabarini

Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post, Mandalay/Bagan, Myanmar | Travel | Mon, July 29 2013

Sober optimism and ‘Endgame’ reinterpreted

Steady: “We cannot laugh. It’s funny and hilarious, but we can’t laugh at it like any other comedy,” Garasi director Yudi said of Beckett’s play. (Courtesy of Komunitas Salihara)

The absurdity of human existence is universal as Teater Garasi succesfully showed in their recent performance of Samuel Beckett’s classic play Endgame.

We are all on the Earth and “there’s no cure for that!” as the lame tyrannical narcissist Hamm points out repeatedly in the play — something that holds true in post-Reform Indonesia as well as the work’s late 1950s original European setting.

Teater Garasi, the now established and mature Yogyakarta-based experimental theater company, revisited the satire 15 years after its presentation of the play. The troupe first brought Hamm, Clov, Nagg and Nell to life in 1998, when the country was in a period of change, disruption and euphoria. Back then, the company’s interpretation of the tragicomic play was serious, or in the words of codirector Landung Simatupang, “stingy on laughter”, as they reflected on how Soeharto managed to postpone his downfall for too long.

As hilarity rises in Indonesia’s increasingly absurd democracy — with its celebrity politicians, graft ridden political parties and government inaction on religious violence — Garasi indulged in Beckett’s humor when presenting Endgame this time.

Endgame is a one-act play set in a post-apocalyptic world. Hamm is bound to his wheelchair, ordering around his reluctant servant, Clov, who is so stiff that he is doomed to never sit down.

“Every man has his specialty,” says Hamm. Nagg and Nell, Hamm’s parents who are also immobile, live inside corrugated bins, their limbs lost after a bicycle accident. Outside of their grey shelter awaits death. The four souls are trapped in a game of mundane repetitive acts and conversations with nowhere to turn.

Hamm, played in turns by Garasi director Yudi Ahmad Tajudin and play codirector Gunawan Maryanto, is portrayed as a smug blind tyrant who feels good about himself and his knack of language. Clov, played by Whani Darmawan and Theodorus Christanto, is a simple-minded servant with a speck of defiance. He answers with a straight face to Hamm, but keeps himself bound to his overbearing lmaster. Nagg (Kusworo Bayu Aji and MN. Qomaruddin) is Hamm’s father who has lost the respect of his son and slowly realizes the irrelevance of his overused comic routine. And Nell (Erythrina Baskoro and Arsita Iswardhani) is Hamm’s mother, who finds the tragic essence of comedy before her demise.

Why don’t you kill me asks Hamm of Clov, who replies cooly and automatically: “I don’t have the combination of the cupboard”.

Later Hamm asks again, “Why don’t you finish us? I will give you the combination of the cupboard if you promise to finish me.”

Clov: “I couldn’t finish you”. Hamm: “Then you won’t finish me”.

Each character understands the hilarity of their situation but has lost the will to laugh. As Nell aptly declares: “Nothing is funnier than unhappiness, I grant you that.”

“Yes, yes, it’s the most comical thing in the world. And we laugh, we laugh, with a will, in the beginning. But it’s always the same thing. Yes, it’s like the funny story we have heard too often, we still find it funny, but we don’t laugh anymore”.

And indeed, they don’t feel like laughing.

“Don’t we laugh?” asks Hamm. “I don’t feel like it,” Clov answers after a moment of reflection. “Nor do I,” Hamm answers.

Reprise: Teater Garasi, the now established and mature Yogyakarta-based experimental theater company, revisited the Beckett’s satire Endgame 15 years after its first presentation of the play. (Courtesy of Komunitas Salihara)

Reprise: Teater Garasi, the now established and mature Yogyakarta-based experimental theater company, revisited the Beckett’s satire Endgame 15 years after its first presentation of the play. (Courtesy of Komunitas Salihara)

Garasi director Yudi said that the group’s interpretation of the play this year reflected the current situation. The conversations in the play were as funny as the situation the country is facing. “We see the 98’ movement falling into a silly whirpool. Laughing at it would be as if we are cool with this difficult and silly situation,” Yudi said.

“We cannot laugh. It’s funny and hilarious, but we can’t laugh at it like any other comedy,” Yudi said.

The ability to find the humor behind the absurd is what Garasi aimed to achieve through its presentation of Endgame.

Yudi said that he first encountered the script for Endgame in 1992 and was immediately caught by the strength of its dialogue. He struggled to translate the English text to Indonesian between 1992 and 1994.

Garasi performed Endgame in 1998, riding the wave at the end of the regime. This year, Garasi performed Endgame as part of Salihara‘s Helateater festival.

Beckett wrote Endgame in French in 1953 and the play was first performed in London on 1957, titled Fin de Partie. The title referred to the last moves in a chess game, when the end is near but the moves had to be taken anyway. Beckett translated the play from French to English himself.

For this year’s performance, Yudi worked with Jean-Pascal Elbaz, former director of the French Cultural Center in Yogyakarta and producer of Endgame in 1998, in translating the script from French to Indonesian. Yudi said that there are things that are lost and things that are found in every translation.

“In French, there is vous and tu, which give a richer meaning and can be adapted to Indonesian with anda dan kamu. We wouldn’t find that in the English translation,” Yudi said.

Aside from what can be found (or lost) in translation, Garasi succeeded in presenting dark Beckett’s dark comedy. Endgame is a tragedy wrapped in humor wrapped in, to use Yudi’s words, a “sober optimism”. Amid the Indonesia’s everyday insanity, some sobriety is always welcome.

Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Art and Design | Thu, July 11 2013

The legacy of passing husbands

Memento mori: Magdalena Sitorus, Widyawati and Suciwati pose with Magdalena’s book Semua Ada Waktunya (All in good time).

When human rights defender Munir Said Thalib was murdered on a plane en route to Amsterdam in 2004, late former secretary-general of the National Commission on Human Rights Asmara Nababan investigated the killing and urged president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to release the report his team made to be used at trial.

Six years later, Asmara died in Guangzhou, China, from lung cancer. The mastermind behind Munir’s killing remains unknown.

Women’s rights activist Magdalena Sitorus, Asmara’s widow, share her connection with Munir’s widow, Suciwati, through Munir’s death. They have also been sharing their experience of grief from losing loved ones in a book by Magdalena.

In an attempt to make sense of her grief, Magdalena interviewed Suciwati and four other women: Widyawati, the widow of former actor and lawmaker Sophan Sophiaan; Shinta Nuriyah Wahid, the widow of former president Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid; Damayanti Noor, the widow of singer Chrisye; and Saparinah Sadli, the widow of late professor Sadli.

Magdalena published a book Semua Ada Waktunya (All in Good Time) last year based on her journal and the interviews with the five women.

She said she was worried about her psychological state after Asmara’s death and writing became her refuge. “I’ve always wrote in my journal, it’s a long-time habit,” she said at a talk at the @america cultural center in June.

“I write as if I’m telling a story to him [Asmara], I tell him what happened in my days. I would write ‘Do you still remember so and so? I met him today…’ Just as if I were talking to him,” she said. “Perhaps, my healing process is like that.”

Magdalena, Suciwati and Widyawati sat in front of an audience to talk about their experience in facing the loss of their husbands. “It’s not easy to talk about something that’s unpleasant. But if by this I can share my experience, motivate people and make them aware that there are unpleasant things and that we should improve them in the future, I don’t mind,” Suciwati said.

Suciwati has relentlessly fought for the murderers of her husband to be found and tried. In December, in advance of Munir’s birthday, Suciwati launched a new campaign calling on the public to sign a petition asking President Yudhoyono to bring Munir’s killers to justice.

Former Garuda Indonesia pilot Polycarpus Budihari Prijanto has been sentenced to 20 years in prison for his role in the death of Munir. Polycarpus has appealed the verdict.

Suciwati, who lost Munir while their children were still very young, said she faced some challenges in explaining the assassination of Munir to their children. She said that several years ago, her children would say that they would not want to become activists. “’I’ll be murdered like my dad’,” Suciwati recounted her son as saying.

“I tell them that what their father did was amazing, how he humanized people and fought for humanity. Those are the things that we should remember,” she said. “It’s not easy when they ask why their father was murdered or when they are angry with Polycarpus. In these situations I present them choices: ‘Will you choose to be like Polycarpus or will you choose to be like your father? What your father has done is meaningful, remembered, the values that he brought should be continued’,” she said.

Now, when family friends ask her son Sultan Alief Allende about his aspirations, he answers that he wants to be a film director to promote human rights through film, Suciwati said.

Suci now lives in Malang with her children and is working on a museum to celebrate his life and values. Suci said that advocacy work is tough, due to the corrupt system in Indonesia.

“We can see the state of law enforcement in Indonesia, how the officers are like, how the top ranking officials are like. When we talk about the law we can be heart broken,” she said.

Widyawati shared the similar feelings after losing Sophan Sophiaan, who died at 64 in a motorcycle accident while participating in a motorcade across Java in celebration of the National Awakening Day centennial.

“I never thought or expected to talk here about my husband who has passed a way. It does hurt. And like mbak Suci, I still have a question mark until now,” she said.

Widyawati said that the years of being spoiled by Sophan’s love left her unprepared in living independently. “I just didn’t know what to do,” she said. Luckily, her family guided her in the minutiae of paperwork, taxes, bills and such.

Magdalena said that she faced undulating emotions while writing her book. “It has been a roller coaster. Even when I came home from [interviewing] Widyawati, I could only stare at my computer screen. I could not write down what I got from them because it’s heavy. But behind that, it’s a healing process.”

Magdalena’s book also touches the stereotype placed on widows and how society perceives women. “I live in a society that doesn’t appreciate women or have a negative view on women,” she said.

Magdalena gave an example of a male friend who was also a Batak who stopped keeping touch after her husband died. “He said he’s protecting me because I no longer have a husband and it was not good for me to speak to him. I wonder who is he protecting? Is he protecting himself or protecting me?”

Suciwati said that a Muslim cleric told her to stop her public activity and to stay at home and pray and take care of her children.

“I wonder whether he knows that I work or how would he know if I prayed or not.”

Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Feature | Tue, July 02 2013
— Photos By JP/Nurhayati

A transgendered person goes on ‘umrah’


During the Islamic fasting month of Ramadhan last year, Maryani, a transgendered woman living inYogyakarta, had a revelation. She would go on umrah, the minor haj pilgrimage, to the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia.

The 53-year-old went to a travel agent in Yogyakarta, her hometown, who specializes in arranging trips for Muslim pilgrims. The agent rejected her application. As a prominent transgendered woman, Maryani does not hide her gender identity from her friends and neighbors. Nor did she with the agent.

“They say that some of the other congregants who were going to take the trip as well were scared and uncomfortable that a waria would be in the group,” Maryani, who is popularly as bu Mar or mbak Marshe, said on the telephone.

Maryani described herself as a waria, a portmanteau of the Indonesian words for woman (wanita) and man (pria) that is often used to describe transgendered women.

However, finally, Maryani’s dream to make the pilgrimage came true. She flew to Mecca on April 26 and returned May 5, and performed all the pillars of the umrah, covered from head to toe as a woman.

Status: Maryani, as a waria, was granted an identification card listing her gender as a woman, enabling her to make the minor pilgrimage as a woman.

Status: Maryani, as a waria, was granted an identification card listing her gender as a woman, enabling her to make the minor pilgrimage as a woman.

“In the holy land, they don’t differentiate between a waria, a real man or a real woman. There was no problem. I wore a mukena and went to Haram mosque and to Mecca and Medina,” she said, referring to women’s Islamic garb.

Maryani has received local and international media attention since 2008, when she transformed her home in a small alley in Notoyudan hamlet in Yogyakarta into a place for transgendered women to study Islam.

Rully, the program manager for the Yogyakarta Transgendered Women’s Organization (Kebaya), said that Maryani’s trip to Saudi Arabia had important meaning for members of Kebaya.

“There has been a stigma that transgendered people are identical with people who have no morals,” Rully said. “Maryani’s pilgrimage shows that there are waria who are religious and who have good spirituality.”

Maryani’s pilgrimage to Mecca as a transgendered woman was made possible when Anis Kurniyawati, the owner of the Yogyakarta office of the Arminareka Perdana travel agency, offered her a spot on a pilgrimage tour that she was arranging..

Anis said that Arminareka Perdana was a travel agency that aimed to help relatively low-income people perform the haj or umrah rituals by encouraging the customers to become part-time sales person for the agency.

Those who book a pilgrimage with Arminareka make a down payment of Rp 3.5 million (US$353.5) for the Rp 20 million cost of the tour. Anis said that potential pilgrim could pay for their tours in installments, or receive a commission for each person that they brought to the agency that could be applied to the total cost of their trip.

After finding a willing travel agent to sponsor her pilgrimage, Maryani dodged another problem. Her identification card now lists her gender as female, as does her passport.

“I’ve never hidden the fact that I’m a waria. I didn’t ask for female status on my ID card,” she said.

The solution to this potential problem was simple: The village head in Yogyakarta where Maryani lives offered to issue a card identifying her as a woman, which the head felt was more appropriate. That opened the door for Maryani to get a passport listing her gender as female as well.
All in the family: Maryani poses with her granddaughter.

All in the family: Maryani poses with her daughter.

The flexibility of Maryani’s village chief allowed her to perform religious rites as a woman. However, other transgendered woman have not been as lucky as Maryani, and have had to identify themselves as men to perform the pilgrimage —as men.

“I was given a female ID card and I’m grateful for that. But I don’t claim that I’m a woman. If there’s a status of female, male or transgendered person, I would chose transgendered,” she said. “Can Indonesia accept that?”

Raised Catholic by adopted parents, Maryani converted to Islam as an adult, and said that religion could be helpful in leading a person to a better life.

“It can help waria think for the long term and help them make better decisions.”

She explained that being in touch with their spirituality helped transgendered women to make good life decisions, saying that many transgendered women live from one day to the next as sex workers.

Countries such as the United States, Britain and Australia recognize three gender options with “X” as a choice for intersex people.

While Indonesia has yet to recognize other gender identities than female and male, the acceptance of transgendered people has increased.

Last year, a transgendered woman, Yuli Rettoblaut, became a candidate for the National Commission for Human Rights (Komnas HAM).

Maryani said that she hoped her experience in carrying out the umrah can open the door for other transgendered women who would like to practice the rites.

Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Feature | Fri, July 05 2013
— Photos courtesy of Maryani and Hartoyo/OurVoice

Up river in North Kalimantan


Our speedboat glides so fast it bounces off the water on the Makassar Strait. The clouds roll above us and drops of light rain touch our skin.

We are on our way to Sekatak, a remote area in the newly anointed capital of North Kalimantan. For curious travelers, the key to a thrilling trip is to go where not many people (i.e., tourists) have gone before. I was sure that traveling to remote areas of Kalimantan, the second-largest island in the world, would undoubtedly bring on the thrills. But, I got more than what I asked for when my travel partner disclosed her secret expertise of driving a speedboat.

Not to worry for those whose friends are less than a secret speedboat driver. The new province of North Kalimantan has more than its share of excitement. It holds natural beauty untouched by mass tourism. Its large and meandering rivers evokes the charm of the Mekong Delta of Indochina when river trips there were not too much like a theme park. And unlike as in North Kalimantan’s southern counterpart, its forests have yet to be transformed into swaths of palm oil plantations, its hills have yet been run down and the land is yet to be covered by pits made by mining companies.

High gear: A speedboat bounces off the water on the Makassar Strait.

High gear: A speedboat bounces off the water on the Makassar Strait.

My travel partner and I found our little speedboat in Tarakan, an island-city in North Kalimantan, the stepping-off point from Balikpapan in East Kalimantan. We fly out of the mainland Kalimantan to Tarakan to reenter through its water ways. Airlines Lion Air and Sriwijaya Air are some of the carriers operating the Balikpapan-Tarakan route. Another route would be to take the small twin-otter planes operated by Susy Air, straight to Tanjung Selor in North Kalimantan from Balikpapan.

Tarakan holds a historical part in the World War II. In 1941, Japanese troops first entered what became Indonesia through Tarakan. Some relics such as cannons and bunkers have become a testament to the war.

We passed the war sights, however, and headed straight for Sekatak. From asking around, we found that chartered speedboats to Sekatak were moored at a pier in Beringin, a dense area where the houses are built on stilts and stand above the water. Under the houses, trash floats on the water, disgusting and strangely serene at the same time. There is another port in Tarakan, which is the official one and bigger than Beringin.

Boats head to Tanjung Selor, the capital of Bulungan regency and North Kalimantan’s center of administration, depart from Tengkayu port. This port also serves Bunyu Island, Nunukan regency, Malinau and other northern territories.

We chose Beringin as the chartered boats there can go straight to Sekatak via Sekatak river. It costs us Rp 100,000 (US$10) per person to take the two-hour ride to Sekatak. It’s a bit of a gamble with the speedboat’s reliability. Ours broke down in the middle of the Makassar Strait. We were lucky that another speedboat departed Beringin with us. So, after some unsuccessful meddling with the motor, we transferred to the other boat.

Standing by: Speedboats moor by stilt houses at Beringin pier, Tarakan, North Kalimantan. Chartered speedboats are available at the pier to take passengers to mainland Kalimantan from Tarakan island.

Standing by: Speedboats moor by stilt houses at Beringin pier, Tarakan, North Kalimantan. Chartered speedboats are available at the pier to take passengers to mainland Kalimantan from Tarakan island.

Kalimantan is home to hundreds of indigenous groups. In Sekatak, some seven indigenous groups – Punan, Kenyah, Tidung, Belusu and Bulungan live in that district, after they were relocated closer to the river by the Soeharto government in the 1970s to make way for timber company Intraca.

Traveling to the isloated communities, one can see the tension between business and local communities for control of resources.

We stayed in a lodging house by the river in Sekatak Buji as the only guests. The houses overlooking the river are made of wood planks. School children jump into the deep water from an iron bridge. You can rent a long boat and glide along the meandering Sekatak River. Interesting sights pop up, such as a little toy boat adorned with decorations. Our boat driver said that the boat was filled with offerings intended for a white crocodile. He said that there must be a family around the area who holds the traditional belief that they are descendants of the creature.

From Sekatak to Tanjung Selor, we took overland route using an unofficial taxi. We sat for four hours for the bumpy ride. A lack of infrastructure made the 120-kilometer journey bumpy. But the sight of the forest, with the tall Mengaris tree made the journey worth it.

Tall and proud: Mengaris trees stand tall in the forest between Sekatak and Tanjung Selor.

Tall and proud: Mengaris trees stand tall in the forest between Sekatak and Tanjung Selor.

We left at noon and arrived before sunset in Tanjung Selor. The town that is intended to be North Kalimantan’s capital is a hilly laid-back town with low-rise buildings and large parks. A statue of the Lemlai Suri Princess or more popularly known as the broken egg princess stands in the intersection of Sengkawit and Jelarai Selor.

The story of the broken egg princess tells the legend of the Bulungan sultanate that reigned between the 18th and 20th centuries. A childless Kayan tribal leader found an egg and a bamboo and brought home the two. The egg and bamboo turned into a baby girl and a baby boy, who would start the Bulungan Kingdom, the legend goes.

The Kayan River passes through the town, adding a relaxing vibe to Tanjung Selor. As with many rivers in Kalimantan, the Kayan River is a wide river with strong current, which makes it good for white water rafting. For those interested in rafting in North Kalimantan, a number of trekking companies provide white-water rafting trips along the Kayan River.

If you don’t have the chance to raft, the river is as enjoyable to see as to ride on. As the sun sets in Tanjung Selor, we sat on the concrete nook along the Kayan River. The dusk-time ray illuminates the trees on the other side of the river, while the water glimmer with a golden hue. My travel partner and I agreed, in a land of mighty rivers, devouring the last light by the river is most appropriate to end the day.

Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post, Bulungan | Feature | Tue, June 25 2013
— Photos by JP/Prodita Sabarini