Island In The Sun 爪哇

When you're on a golden sea
You don't need no memory
Just a place to call your own
As we drift into the zone

On an island in the sun
We'll be playing and having fun
And it makes me feel so fine
I can't control my brain

Last February, we made our winter migration south to the beautiful, balmy, coffee loving island of Java, Indonesia. For one week, we found refuge along a one mile stretch beach called Batukaras. Batakuras was a perfect place to lay on the beach, watch the clouds float by against a backdrop of equatorial blue, admire kids effortlessly surf the waves, and not think about tomorrow or yesterday.

At one point, as we savored a cup of freshly brewed Java coffee, birdMAN said, “We moved to the wrong country.” Yes, we had fallen in love with Indonesia. Not only is the food amazing, the language decipherable, but the coffee was as abundant as the sea has waves.

Whereas some Chinese dishes seem to have more oil and MSG than actual food and the predominant flavor is salt, Indonesian cuisine is fresh, flavorful, and oh, oh, oh so good. As we always do when on holiday, we lived from meal to meal. Morning banana pancakes, noontime guacamole, afternoon lemon refreshers, evening curries--our bellies never went empty. Even now, I dream of gado-gado salad, blanched vegetables and fried tempeh topped with a fragrant concoction of coconut milk, ground peanuts, chilies, and garlic. Indonesia is the birthplace of chicken satay, skewered barbecued chicken doused with a sweet, gingery, and salty sauce. Papaya, pineapple, lemon, and avocado were just a few kinds of the juices made fresh upon ordering. We feasted on barbecued fish, squid, or shrimp drizzled with lime and served with a side of garlic, chilies, and soy sauce while sitting beach side and listening to the waves lap the shores. It was simply, deliciously, entirely flavor heaven.

Meal with a view
I go gaga for gado-gado

As the cuisine is pleasing to the palate, the ebb and flow of the language is pleasing to the ears--and much, much, much easier to learn than Chinese.  Like English, Indonesian is not tonal and written using the alphabet. That means learning Indonesian avoids major difficulties: remembering tones and meaning based on pictographs (Chinese characters). For me, I have to say a new word or phrase a gazillion times to say the tones correctly and convey meaning. Mastering simple phrases like, “How much does that cost?” can be a painful and frustrating.

Not so with Indonesian. The first time I ordered chicken (ayum) with no coaching or hand gesturing whatsoever, the server understood me. What crazy world is this? Some of the words are derived from English, such as taksi (taxi) and resto (restaurant). Furthermore, we encountered several westerners who not only spoke Indonesian, but appeared to be in deep, philosophical conversations with local Indonesians. As Indonesia is the fourth most populated country in the world, there are many opportunities to make Indonesian friends.

We also found a common bond with our Indonesian friends: a love for coffee. In China, finding a reasonably priced and decent cup of coffee sometimes may feel like an elusive dream. But coffee dreams come true on the island of Java. Cheap and delicious coffee was available 24-7 at every street-food vendor, guesthouse, street corner, and 7-Eleven. How Indonesians feel about coffee may be summed up by Bono (not the U2 pop star, but the civil-engineer-turned-artist/surfer Indonesian we met at our beach retreat): “When I don’t have coffee, I feel like dying. I see a beautiful girl, I don’t care. I still feel like dying.”

Care for a spot of coffee?
A cup of Java in Java

The food, the coffee, the people, the all around pleasantness of Batukaras certainly revived our tired Beijing souls. While we mostly spent the days chillaxin’ beach side, we managed get in some jogging and surfing.  We slept at the comfortable Villa Monyet in bamboo hut under a thatched roof. There we chatted with the surfing-loving staff over cups of Java-fresh coffee, waved off the vicious mosquitoes (note-to-self, must bring mosquito repellent), and breathed in the tropical breeze fragrant with durian, bananas and rain.

Click HERE for more pictures

Chinese Word of the Blog: 放轻松 Fàng qīngsōng
English translation: Relax, chillax

Do I blend in?

Our surfing instructor