It always staggers me that each time I’m in the shower, or camping in my tent, or having a coffee in a rural town in the middle of nowhere in France, I keep getting fantastic ideas for future projects, blog posts, photographs, travels, discoveries, and world domination.
As soon as I leave those magical places (ok, the shower wasn’t that magical), everything seems to disappear into oblivion. Emails start coming in, the next brief is on the horizon, and the next set of bills were just deducted from my account. Once again unto the breach, dear friends!
We craft our hopes and dreams when we are given some mental space. Space creates desire and it’s those desires that move us forward, let us create dreams, which in turn push us to create and act.
When I was growing up in a small suburban town in Poland in the 90s, the one thing that we were afforded was time. None of us grew up in particularly affluent or successful families. As a matter of fact, the majority of the population came from the lower end of the working class background. Social mobility prior to 1989 effectively didn’t exist.
Growing up, our generation was the product of a forgotten system, trapped in a whirlwind of transformation, most of the time left to our own devices. None of us would become lawyers or doctors; as it turns out, however, this opened up other opportunities.
I picked up my first camera at about 15, it was a Canon A510 (3.2MP CCD monster). With so much spare time at my disposal, the journey began. I would explore the local surroundings in pursuit of images, photographic knowledge, and simple teenage experimentation. I didn’t know anything about photography, there were no teachers in the area, the craft wasn’t even appreciated or recognized as an art form in the place I lived. The Internet (I think we just got past dial-up at that point) still didn’t have a lot of education resources. Sometimes, though, you just need a bit of time to figure things out.
In an increasingly busy society, we continue to fall into patterns with guaranteed outcomes. Creativity is lost. The joy of discovery is lost. We fail to generate dreams. And a life without dreams… is it really worth living? So every time I manage to rip a bit of time back from the claws and clutches of metropolitan life, I attempt to find a new destination to travel, explore, and understand. New places of beauty to explore armed with a loose schedule and the literal lens of discovery.
This was the first time I set foot on the Asian continent. My travels had me touch down in Kuala Lumpur where my journey began. At this stage I booked 3 tickets (London -> KL, KL -> Denpassar -> Jakarta -> London) and two days accommodation. The rest was an adventure. Instead of writing a guide to the places I visited (Lonely Planet or Rough Guides have probably already done a better job than I’ll ever do), I would like to focus on a few things I discovered that surprised or inspired me.
Did you ever think to yourself that 200 guests on a wedding is a large number? I was introduced to a completely new scale. A very good friend of mine, Thea (cool story how we met, but that’s for another time), who was born and lives in KL, invited me as her +1 to a wedding taking place the weekend I touched down.
If I remember correctly, she mentioned something about 1200 guests. That’s a reasonably sized wedding in KL. There’s a rather large portion of the afternoon dedicated for the family to take images with the newly wed. With this amount of guests, it’s quite a challenge.
What I find fascinating about wedding traditions is that they contain significant amounts of knowledge about the history, culture, and society of a given region. Maybe next time, if I arrive in better time (I went effectively straight after 20 hours of travel), I’ll have the opportunity to document the tradition in better detail.
Who’s getting married next? Let me know.
Having lived in Europe my whole life, most of the temples and places of worship I visited are of Christian origins. Those of historical significance are usually found in large metropolitan areas (St Paul’s, Westminster Cathedral, La Sagrada Familia, The Vatican, Czestochowa Cathedral, and many others). By comparison, the Hindu and Buddhist temples I visited in both Malaysia and Indonesia are placed within the most amazing scenery.
Borobudur is the largest Buddhist temple in the world, dating back to the 9th century. It was constructed for the Shailendra dynasty, who are marked as bringing cultural renaissance to Java. Today, apart from being a UNESCO Heritage Site and a pilgrimage site for Buddhists, it is also believed that touching the Buddha statue inside one of the bell-like-structures (stupas) will bring you luck.
There’s also a really cool story of love and betrayal, which explains the construction of Prambanan.
To keep the long story short, there was a war between two kingdoms. The war finished and the Kingdom of Pengging won over the invader, the Kingdom of Boko, by killing its ruler Prabu Boko. Prince Bandung Bondowoso of the Kingdom of Pengging fell in love with Prabu Boko’s daughter—Roro Jonggrang. He proposed marriage, but Roro Jonggrang swiftly rejected it in memory of her deceased father. She proposed two impossible conditions for the marriage to take place: first, the prince must build a well named Jalatunda; and second, he must construct a thousand temples in a single night. The prince agreed and using his supernatural powers he summoned demons of the Earth to build the temples.
After building 999 temples, he started to work on the final one: Prambanan. In an attempt to thwart his efforts, the princess and her maids light a fire in the east and begin pounding rice, a traditional dawn activity. Fooled into thinking the sun is rising, the spirits fled into the Earth leaving the temple unfinished. The prince furious by the deception, turned Roro Jonggrang into a stone statue and placed her as a feature in the final temple, completing the construction and fulfilling the conditions for the marriage.
What I found largely disappointing is that the key Muslim temples are off limits to non-Muslim tourists. I was looking forward to seeing those, but I didn’t do my research on limited access prior to attempting to visit the Grand Mosque in Kuala Lumpur.
Every place of worship or faith I ever visited in Europe was open access to everybody, so I totally didn’t expect those restrictions. Particularly with the ever increasing political tensions, I think it would be an excellent opportunity for the West to further understand the foundations of the Muslim faith. Education is everything.
So you tried all sorts of Asian cuisine in London, New York, Sydney, wherever… forget it, it doesn’t taste the same. Each region here appears to have dishes specific to the local area. Also, the cheaper the place, the more authentic the food.
Here are some highlights:
Penang in Malaysia has retained its own cuisine. It’s significantly different to the rest of Malaysia. If I remember correctly, the government put restrictions on non-Penang residents preparing Penang dishes to help preserve the authenticity of the cuisine.
There’s a number of more and less famous food markets around the city, with each cook specializing in only one dish. You can mix and match by buying food from different stalls. The Prawn Mee at the Lebuh Presgrave Market is fantastic, unfortunately I didn’t snap a photo of it!
Funny story with this one though. I got locked out of my hotel because I couldn’t work out how to open the front gate. I rang the owner, who said he’s going to come back in about 30min. In the meantime, the owner of the Prawn Mee stall at the market recognized me (I ate there the night before, I think I was the only tourist there throughout the whole evening) and literally kicked the gate in to help me get in… what makes it funnier is that I’m a 6ft male and she’s a 5ft female. One of those ‘I-wish-I-had-a-GoPro-on-my-head’ moments.
One of the really cool places along the journey I had the pleasure to visit was introduced to me by a friend of Carina: Arco.
Carina was very kind to help me get around Bali and Java and helped me discover things that simply don’t make it to any tourist guides. This was a little Warung slightly outside of Yogyakarta. It was built around living trees serving as structural support, where the bottom floor is occupied by a restaurant and the top floor serves as a living quarter.
From what I understand, those are traditional 19th century builds that stand to this day.
Different ways of doing things
Each time you visit a new place, you realize that everywhere has their own way of doing things. One of the places that stood out to me was the Kraton in Yogyakarta.
The Kraton is the palace of the Sultan of Yogyakarta. Apart from a range of clever architectural solutions referring to Javanese philosophy (i.e. the palace gates are placed in a way that you can form a single line from the Tugu Monument, through the Kraton, Mount Merapi and Panggung Krapyak, referring to the origin and last purpose of humans), the Kraton is comprised of a community that works and lives within the gates of the palace.
Everybody within lives as one community, with the profits from sales of traditional arts and crafts fueling the whole community, as opposed to a single workshop.
I think this one is kind of self-explanatory. Each place I go to, I attempt to collect new places of beauty. Enjoy a few of them below:
About the author: Przemek Czaicki is a London-based travel and portrait photographer, foodie, and Polish guy with a British sense of humour who’s fixing the world 1 pixel at a time. You can find more of his work on his website, Medium, and Instagram. This post was also published here.