2: Solo/Yogyakarta – In Search Of The Authentic Experience

Life isn’t just black and white – it’s all the shades of grey in between that make it beautiful.

I’ve been asked how everything is going many times now. I’m usually not entirely sure how to answer, yet very glad they asked. I never really say it but it’s always a comfort when you wake up to a message from a friend checking in to see how you’re doing. At the same time, how do I distill everything I’m experiencing, feeling, seeing down to a couple of short lines in a Facebook message? How does ‘amazing’ begin to cover it? How do I do justice to all that it is, while at the same time providing an accurate representation without any sugarcoating. What is the authentic experience? It’s not all beautifully filtered sunrise shots, although they definitely are a part of it, and I think that’s really important to remember. Some days are an exhilarating high, others i’m exhausted, homesick and wondering what everyone I know is up to. I do these posts partly in search of a better answer than amazing, and partly so that I never forget this journey. As daunting as it is, at this point in my life, I know this trip is exactly what I need.

You never quite appreciate the true value of sleep until it is difficult to come by. 4am, wake up disoriented in an unfamiliar room in an unfamiliar city. It’s never quite dark enough – I never remember to close the curtains. A haunting prayer drifting through the drowsy city, there’s something searingly beautiful and melancholy about the way the melody pierces through the still night. Something possesses me to get out of bed at this hour, and I lift the sheer curtains away from the window to look out over Solo. I realize how little I know about how people really live here. How different the lifestyle really must be. Realize that I don’t really know where I am anymore. Get my phone out and google map my location. Beginning to fall into the shoot routine – get off the plane, pile into the waiting crew bus, check into the hotel with my oversized bed. Ironic, because sleep is something which seems to be eluding me recently.

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Clear glass bottles lining shop fronts, a yellow liquid – petrol. The air hangs still, it is hot, as the midday sun beats down. Rust and corrugated iron. A flurry of movement, weaving in and out of the traffic as we try to cross the road safely, dodging motorbikes. A stray chip packet crunches underfoot, bottles and paper litter the ground. I want to grab a bag and pick up each coke bottle, every last Oreo wrapper.

Beyond all of that, a lovely and hard-working people. An old man and woman smile and greet me as I walk past their store, it’s homely, laundry hanging from the eaves, the smell of tamarind and grilled chicken. This is their home.

A friend of mine asked me today about my impressions of Indonesia have been outside of the amazing stuff I’ve seen as part of the shoot. What is real. What is gritty. What is real? After all, gritty doesn’t always mean real. The polished exterior is present, and therefore as real as what is behind it. It’s all unique and beautiful, as long as you can acknowledge both exist. Indonesia is all those beautiful wonders in the montage for their travel campaign, it’s also the flip side of the coin. You can’t separate two parts of a whole. It’s all real to me. Life isn’t just black and white – it’s all the shades of grey in between that make it worthwhile.

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4am wake-up to get to the airport in Lombok. Quietly stealing away into the night, all the holidaying guests fast asleep after beautiful days spent enjoying each others company around a pool. $3 happy hour at the pool bar. Fresh papaya and fried chicken.

Touchdown mid-morning. Plane time is prime reading time. Appreciated the lucky upgrade to ample legroom. I have learned my lesson about carry-on baggage without wheels. Thoroughly.

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No Ben & Jerry’s, so I buy Haagen Dazs and butter cookies from the hotel convenience store and sit there eating them as I think about how I’ll compose my v-log for the next episode. We are at the Sunan Solo hotel. Haven’t had butter cookies for years. I let myself indulge this craving. Off day mornings are spent at the gym, doing pilates, or catching up on episodes of Scandal. Self-care is important with an intense schedule. Staying on top of life at home, life in LA. Not that I necessarily call eating sugar self-care – sticking to my usual healthy diet is definitely one of the challenges of the road.

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Breakfast involves dinner food and dessert which is difficult to walk away from – try to stick to a plate of fruit and eggs. Papaya for the vitamin C, watermelon because I like it. But check out the green bread! There are a lot of green foods here which aren’t vegetables. Which could be a good or a bad thing, depending on which way you look at it!

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On the last night, we have dinner away from the hotel. It’s a welcome change and we embrace the sounds and smells of the bustling eatery, jam packed with locals. Food comes fast, the kitchen slinging out orders. This joint serves mostly Western food, spaghetti with cheese and a lot of sauce, onion rings. It’s difficult for me to find something that’s not fries on the side of a greasy slab of meat, I hardly get to eat. Pile back onto the bus, drifting in and out of sleep, earphones in, lost in my own little world, watching the trees go by outside the window. Lights in the distance.

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Yoghakarta has got to be my favourite so far. Aside from my day shooting being one of the most spectacular experiences of my life (which I can’t wait to share, when I can), the hotel was beyond beautiful. A three-tier hydroponics garden over a salt water lobby pool under the night sky, GreenHost Boutique Hotel easily makes my top 3 hotels I’ve been to. Airy, minimalist decor, light wood and white walls. Then stepping outside my room every morning, feeling like I was part of a sci-fi film, on a space station maybe. Utterly surreal. Breakfast. Vegetables harvested from their roof gardens. Sitting there in the airy open space, bright green juice – can’t get enough of that papaya. The resident bird whistles and sings from its gilded cage. At dinner, I discover that they don’t joke about chilli here in Indonesia. Tongue thoroughly scalded, I now know that despite my love for chilli, there are some levels of chilli that even I should pass on. I go for a swim right before bed. It’s calming and i’m content. Secretly elated.

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Everyone has an off-day Tuesday. So we head out exploring. Markets – trinkets, colorful fabrics, woven bracelets, everyone is carrying their backpacks front-facing, I do the same. Buy a few souvenirs and head to a small eatery for lunch. The menu is entirely in Indonesian. Turns out it only serves chicken. For like 30c a piece. The Australian chicken tonight ad campaign from like ten years ago plays in my head.

An elderly couple wash their cows at the communal water source, using a wet reed. We stop and take photographs, and they look up at us unperturbed, a little bemused. What seemed like such a novelty to us, was in fact their everyday lives.

We wind up in a sugar factory. Patrik Gula Gondang Klaten. Was such an insight seeing the behind the scenes of what gets to our supermarket shelves. It astounded me how close we were able to get to the machines. You could feel the raw heat and power of the cogs and metal arms, shredding, pounding and crushing just meters away. One misstep, one wrong move, and it could have been disaster. The workers perch atop the machines, barefoot and unconcerned, whistling and cracking jokes. How different their world must be.

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Finished off the day with a temple at sunset. Ratu Boko temple. It was difficult to get a good shot with everyone scrambling over each other for a silhouette pic, but worth the trip. Always a sucker for a good sunset. Not quite the same as Lombok but gorgeous all the same. Bali is really going to be something special with the sunsets. Note that awkward moment when two sheep random walk through the temple and cut across the lawn in front of you. Those sheep knew how to strut. The pair of them. The sass!

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It was amazing to have a day to explore on our own terms. No schedule. No story. Grateful to have a local show us around. Not have to worry about navigation. Every day is an insight into how a different people live their everyday lives. A peek into their world, into their homes. It is one big learning experience, an adventure. It really does come down to a balancing act, not being overwhelmed by the bigger picture, yet not getting too caught up in the stresses of the minutia of day to day. I know next year, looking back, it’s going to be a crazy flurry of color and sounds, memories bleeding into one another, and hopefully I’ll have done a good job of documenting the experiences.

It’s been a challenging week for me. Professionalism is showing up enthusiastic and present no matter what. Authenticity is your presence in each moment, and aren’t we all here in search for that authentic experience? There is something so raw, so powerful in authenticity and vulnerability. Positivity and determination pays off. Yogyakarta is going to be one of those places for me. Won’t be forgetting you soon.

Strangely relevant to my shoot activity this week (can’t wait to share this when it airs):

‘The light at the end of the tunnel is your life – it’s the tunnel that’s temporary.’ – Michael Josephson

Thank you to the Sunan Solo and Greenhost Boutique Hotel for wonderful stays!

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