The Mists of Yogya
The train pulls into Yogyakarta’s main railway station. Produce is unloaded, sons and daughters are shuttled home and visitors, eager to explore the bastion of Javanese culture, follow the path of other tourists. They make a beeline for Borobudur, Jalan Malioboro or the Sultan’s Palace (Kraton).
They bypass an unassuming enclave of warungs (stalls) behind the railway tracks known as Angkringan Tugu, Yogyakarta’s demimonde. Kerosene lamps provide the lighting. Casually toppled motorcycles, strewn helmets, wooden food carts and makeshift beds tell you you’ve stumbled upon a distinct subculture.
Angkringan Tugu and its patrons live for the night. From your shaky wooden bench and table, you count three types of vendors: one selling drinks, another, sego kucing (rice packs) and another offering gorengan (an assorted tray of deep fried food). Its creatures revel in the protective cover of mist, exhaust, kretek cigarette smoke and kettle steam. The kerosene lamps make silhouettes of the university undergraduates who come to commune, and the laborers that keep the city running. Flip open your mobile phone to check a text message or snap a photo, and you will incriminate yourself, incite unkind glares for having interrupted the night, its characters, its mist and their spell.
Then comes a flicker of a different sort. A burning ember appears between the vendor’s tongs, and the incandescent coal is plunked into your Javanese espresso coffee, displacing much of it as it brims over the top. This is Jogja’s trademark kopi joss, pronounced as “jossssss”, aptly suggestive of the sizzling ember. This drink is an addiction of the becak (trishaw) and andong (horse-drawn buggy) drivers looking for a boost to their physical strength.
Sounds carry a long way: a trickle of philosophies on existence, snippets of political ranting and probing questions on values of life. This is a place where you really get to know someone.
The magic of Angkringan Tugu captivated me, an otherwise impatient tourist, for three-and-a-half hours. It is technically a huddle of hawker stalls, a mass of creaky wooden chairs and tables—almost a disappointment. During the day, that is. At night, it is a place to idle time away, to dream, to wring inspiration, and savor a unique city’s special flavor.
Karyn J. Wang is a Research Associate at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore.