A Visit to Coconut Sugar Home Industry, Yogyakarta

Written by Gita Natalia, Travel Designer at SloMo Travel Indonesia

Travel Story Highlights: Borobudur Sunrise, Pawon Luwak Coffee, Coconut Sugar Home Industry, Yogyakarta

It was during the rainy season in Indonesia but my friend and I decided to gamble and went for the Borobudur Sunrise trip. We had to be ready at 3.30 in the morning to be picked up by our tour guide to go to Borobudur. We were lucky. The sky was clear and it was definitely one of the best sunrises I have ever seen.

Borobudur Sunrise View with Mt. Merapi at the background

After the trip, we went to Pawon Luwak Coffee, located not far from Borobudur Temple. Here, they show us briefly about the Luwak coffee beans, and the animal Luwak itself and we then had Luwak coffee in that small and intimate shop. However, the experience in Pawon Coffee is a little bit touristy (they only show us the beans and the animals that are caged and they don’t grow or roast the coffee there).

Pawon Luwak Coffee, Yogyakarta

Our tour guide, Wahyu and I were having conversations about the huge tourism potential in Yogyakarta (Wahyu ended up being our partner in crime at SloMo Travel Indonesia for Yogyakarta trips) from adventure, heritage and culture and also culinary. Then, he suddenly remembered there is a lady who makes coconut sugar at her house and she lives only 5 minutes away. Without any further due, we went straight to her house.

Her house is located in a small village, just opposite the Pawon Temple. Most of it is still made from bamboo and plain bricks, something that is rare or expensive to be constructed nowadays. At the front of her house, there is an old traditional water well. Wahyu demonstrated how to draw water from the well, which seemed really deep. A bucket attached to a rope that was dropped into the well and Wahyu had to manually pull the rope to get the water out of it. Simple but it is already rare even in Yogyakarta. The lady, that I didn’t remember her name, saw us coming and welcomed us to her humble abode.

She was very welcoming and let us explore her interesting house and kitchen

Wahyu already knew one of her sons so it didn’t seem like we just invaded someone else’s house. Although conversation could get a little difficult (considering I am Indonesian and speak Bahasa Indonesia), Wahyu who speaks the local Javanese language is such a great interpreter. The language barrier wasn’t an issue for us to get to know each other. Fun fact, Indonesia has more than 300 languages and it is possible for fellow Indonesians not to understand each other unless they speak Bahasa Indonesia. Although I came from a Javanese family, I only speak limited Javanese and I didn’t understand 90% of the words Wahyu and the lady were saying.
She explained how she makes the coconut sugar from the back part of her house. I call it the Javanese version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. She first collects the sap from coconut trees and boiled it until it turns into a caramel consistency. Then, she pours the liquid into molds made from the actual coconut shells. She sells a kilo for IDR 20,000 or around USD 1.5.

Her handmade coconut sugar! She even gave us lots of coconut sugar to try!

I also find out that coconut sugar and red or brown sugar (we call it gula Merah) are different. They all come in blocks when traditionally made but coconut sugar has a distinct flavor. Almost tastes like caramel coconut fudge. On the other hand, red or brown sugar is made from coconut or palm but mixed with additional granulated sugar in it.

When we were at her house, she also told us a lot of stories about her life. One of her stories is when she was younger, she used to sell her coconut sugar in a local market. On some occasions, tourists came to see her coconut sugar but often didn’t end up buying. However, the local gangster in the area thought she must have got a lot of money so they asked her for money. It happens more than once so she got an idea. Apparently, she found out that the leader of the gang used to like this lady and asked her to marry him, but she said no. So, the lady said to those gangsters, “let him (I forget what his name) know that I’m (the lady) looking for him.” Since then all the gangsters in the market area stopped bothering her. What a bad-ass lady.

That’s her when she was featured in a local magazine in 2005

Her house is very simple. One huge room (more like a living room) where she sleeps, cooks. Watches tv and eats. I think there were a few small rooms as well for her children. That living part of the house is made from brick and bamboo. The home factory, which is located at the back of the house is made fully from bamboo and a little bit of plastic roof in case of rain. Here’s a glimpse of her coconut sugar home industry.

She also preserves a collection of postcards and photographs from many years ago, including a postcard of the previous king and queen from the Netherlands (and she has a big one framed on her wall too). She said she got it from a Dutch tour guide a long time ago. When we came she wasn’t cooking sugar but we were so privileged that she explained to us how to make the real coconut sugar from her kitchen.

“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” her Javanese version

Before we left she said something in Javanese to me but I didn’t understand and my face kind of said it all. “Selamat Jalan!” she said (or “Farewell” in English). I promised the lady that I will come back soon to get a private Javanese language lesson from her. I want to get to know my cultural roots and understand Indonesia’s diversity.

This story is also featured on https://www.slomotravelindonesia.com/

The Courage to Grab the Wheel

I love the environment that forces me to challenge myself, defying all the odds. When I used to work, there were times when I didn’t feel like I wasn’t growing or challenged. I then decided to leave. It happened several times that there was a period of time where I changed 3 jobs within 2 months.

I was a total failure. It was even proven by my failed business and I decided to let it go. After a few conversations and several google searches, I found out I wasn’t committed. But what if deep down I know it’s not something that I want? They said you’re not there long enough to know. Maybe it’s true I just wasn’t committed.

I saw on social media about Meghan Markle exiting the Royal Family. And I was like whoa!! I knew about the bullies towards the young family of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. As much as I wanted to spill my rage, it won’t change the fact that the unpleasant statements are already out and seen. It won’t make what so-called the ‘criticisms’ disappear from the face on the everlasting internet platforms until Facebook or Instagram or any other platforms decided to go out of business.

Meghan found courage. People see it as stepping down while what she is actually doing is stepping out from what doesn’t belong to her and forward to the life that she and her family deserve. It’s not even a year, it’s only a short period of time! Then I was like, wait a minute… she did it because she knows her worth.

Time is the most expensive thing that we have. Once it’s gone it’s gone. The price Meghan needed to pay an expensive price to claim her precious time in the future with courage. Despite all the odds, she entered the Royal Family and against all the odds too she left what was ‘thought’ to be where she should be for the rest of her life. She knows who is she and what she worth.

Each of us holds the steer to navigate the course of our lives. The road to your purpose might not as smooth as you thought, but focus on driving to your purpose. Don’t let anyone grab the wheel

Thoughts of Sustainable Shopping

As a kid I used to buy a lot of stuffs. 97% might be something that I don’t really need but I am privilege to have parents that can afford the silly consumerism side of me when I was little. Then, I went to study in Australia and had to move every 6 months for 2 years. It was a pain in the arse, especially when you have a lot of stuffs. Ever since I never overbought. I just use what I can use at home and shop basic for fashion.

Living in Australia doesn’t only teach me how to buy less, but also to live sustainably. Most of people in Australia, in my opinion, have higher awareness for sustainability and climate change compare to the people in Indonesia. Hence, eco-friendly becomes a lifestyle that almost everyone tries to implement in every aspect of their daily lives, including me. I became so excited with the amount of businesses that incorporate sustainability and eco practices in their company in Australia. I can now support sustainability and be a responsible shopper. However, as I dig deeper into sustainability and eco-friendly businesses, I realize there is another problem than just shop sustainably. Once an substance, a tangible product or an item is produced, they have nowhere to go but planet earth, the planet that we are living in at the moment (unless they finally find another planet for us to migrate to). Unless they are recycled or repurposed, they are just going to be junk, filling our space on the earth.

Ok, buying natural product I agree is a better option compare to plastic that takes forever to decompose. But unless we eventually re-purpose it when it’s no longer usable it’s gonna be a junk. In fact, it also creates emission to produce this items that often larger than disposable plastic. Take a look on how many metal straws are bought and by the end of x month, we forget to bring it all the time and accept the plastic straw instead (I’m talking about ya Jakartans). Cloth shopping bag too or goodies bag. It releases more emission to produce compared to a single used plastic bag. Another example is paper bag. Unless it’s made from recycled paper, we’re killing our oxygen provider (re: trees). Although paper company have their ‘conservation’ policy, the reality often doesn’t seem as they promised. Read: Indonesian Paper Industry Destroys More Trees Than Planting Trees (Bahasa).

Although buying less and minimalism lifestyle seems to be the key to reduce production of things, there are a lot at stake if that happens, especially the economy cycle. But I think it’s important to say that consumerism is not going to save the world either. I am not saying that I have stopped shopping at all, and neither do you. I think what matters is how and why we shop. It’s about perceiving values rather than solely about possessions.

The Victims of Systems

I read a brilliant book a couple of months ago because of the hype among the well-read people. It’s Sapiens A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari. As mainstream as it sounds that book is definitely a must read! It is for anyone who is curious about why the world society works and functions as it is today. It’s basically a story about us. It’s a pretty thick book but hey, blinkist is a thing today.

Why do I bring up this book? Well, reading our own narrative and history, I have learnt that Homo Sapiens are blessed with cognitive intelligence and revolution to develop the systems that exist but we are also the product of a system. In fact, the society (which is also a system by itself) is also shaped by a collective of systems. An example I get from this book is Yuval explains why do we, human beings become so dependent on grains in our diet. I mean in common meals there is always a portion of grains: pasta, bread, cereal, rice, etc. (unless you’re on a diet). In his book, he takes us back to the end of Nomadic era where homo sapiens (a.k.a. us) decided to settle down. Hence, the beginning of the Agricultural revolution (9.500 – 8.500 BC).

Grains become one of the earliest commodity to be domesticated and human realized that there is a way to have an abundance supply of food. Good thing right? Yet it wasn’t even easier than foraging. Human needed to opening up lands (that often caused blood and lives to fight for the land), moving away rocks and stones and carrying lots of water in order to keep these ‘grass’ to survive. It required human to settle down and live in houses to take care of their domesticated commodities (animals included). Who is domesticated now? Worse, our diet slowly became primarily dominated by grains and slowly but surely, human body became dependent on it. Our survival is now based on one staple diet compared to when human used to forage and not relying on a specific species to survive. In fact, our decisions to settle down leads us to more stories and has created many systems in the world. Village, tribes, kingdoms, colonialism, the trade system, politics, the UN, independent countries, the news and the list goes on and on and on..

A Job is one of the products of system. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t against going to office and do the WORK that matters. The system victimizes when we go to 9-5 every Monday to Friday following orders because that’s how it has been done for the past… I don’t know.. 34 years? The system where creativity is not flourished but killed to maintain the stability of a system itself. Or repeating this whole process for 30 years or so and retired by 50 something because that’s how to society works. Why can’t we continue the work we care until whenever we want to? This is not only about career, it’s also about marriage, education, law (realize how these two words are often accompanied by the word ‘system’), healthcare, travel privilege, citizenship (hence, different passport strengths worldwide) and many more.

I started to have interest to this topic when I was learning about travel privilege. I wonder I never choose to be born in a country that have weak passport and I never done anything wrong in my life that would degrade my personal value as a citizen of the world yet it takes me a hell of a process to visit certain countries. I once came to an embassy for a visa interview at 5 AM in the morning for a tourist visa application. I even think it might be still easier for a ‘strong’ passport holders who have committed a minor crime or misdemeanor compared to someone with ‘weak’ passport to visit a certain country.

I’m sorry for bringing criminal offender on this frame because one of the aspects that determine the strength of a passport is terrorism, which is a way serious type of crime that affects the safety of millions. But just because a terrorist come from a certain country or even the majority of the people there are terrorist doesn’t mean everyone is terrorists. Those few of people who aren’t involved in any kind of terrorism initiatives never choose to be born there but they have to carry the burden of ‘weak’ passport and losing the opportunities that are accessible to millions of others. Because it is easier for the system to do so. But it also leads to a more serious yet underrated problem such as bias. My friend from Indonesia came and visit his brother in the US. He’s been there multiple times and everything went smooth. The only time it was different is when he began to grow his hair and visited the States with longer hair. That ended up with him being interrogated with officials at the immigration.

On the other hand, we can’t imagine how the world we know today is going to be without a system. There is always a good and the bad side of every stories. I can’t stop thinking what’s going to happen if human decided to keep the nomadic lifestyle? What is the world going to be without the existence of systems?

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I keep asking myself a question, why do I want to do SloMo? No matter how hard it is to move forward, it is also harder to stop. I believe in its vision, I believe for better tourism, I believe that traveling is not merely just taking pictures and visiting beautiful places. Those are fantastic! But we have to keep in mind that every beautiful place and experience we get during our travels, it gets more complicated than just because the our tour guide showed it to us or because we discovered it. It involves the work of locals, hundreds of years of passed customs and cultures, colonialism, history, the wildlife evolution or natural events that happened thousands or millions of years ago. Travelers need to be more engage more when they travel.

I learn more when I am on the go than when I am sitting down. I analyze every aspects that my eyes capture and question its existence. That’s how I learn from the world as it is. Don’t get me wrong, resources like books and writings are incredible but I personally don’t agree with education system. Although it seems like its shifting into a more creative, problem solving and emotional intelligence focused, its main task is still to create a better WORK FORCE.

Another thing is I just want to work hard for my own dream, not anyone else’s. It sounds so easy though but I am too in my own mind prison. I love to hustle when I work. I am willing to take that extra steps and initiatives when I work for someone else but tend to do the opposite for my own dreams. Why so? I learnt (and I am also secretly denying) that I don’t want to be held accountable if something goes wrong with this. I told everyone about what I am doing and if failure happens I’ll be ‘embarrassed’. I think building SloMo and continue working for SloMo will be a great opportunity for me to learn and also break through the prison of my own mind.

It’s crazy how I realized all of this after I started my own thing (still in the starting phase). I guess every step of our live has its own story and impact. I hope I survive this journey. Wish me luck

PS: SloMo is a business that I am working on at the moment. It’s SloMo (Slow Movement) Travel Indonesia. So its focus is for ethical travel, experiential and educational tourism while still incorporating the conventional ‘must do’s.