A Lesson for Tourists in Yogyakarta
As we walked through nondescript streets trying to find our way to Taman Sari, Yogyakarta’s water castle that was once a royal garden of the Sultanate, we were approached by a local man who wandered up to us on yet another confusingly similar back road. He inquired about our sought after destination, and offered us directions. However, he then decided to lead us directly there himself.
We followed him into stranger and narrower roads. The three of us, all young, collegiate women, tried to talk under our breath about how well we thought this was going to end up. We tried to judge the situation, but before we came to a conclusion on our relative safety, we started noticing signs that affirmed the fact this local man was actually leading us where he said he was. Upon arriving at the water castle we wandered around taking photos and he attempted to continue to engage us in conversation. That’s when everything finally registered.
This man was impressive. It was obvious that he tried to gain reward from tourists in the area, but he was also good at what he did.
Yogyakarta, like plenty of tourist locations globally, has a variety of bilingual residents who will try and get close to tourists for financial benefits. Although their tactics can vary, in the end they almost always try and lead you to a store or restaurant, where they will end up getting a cut of the profit from what their provided customers buy. However, just because they’re trying to use tourists doesn’t mean that they’re inherently bad. Especially because they, too, can just as easily be used to get benefits from.
This man was impressive. It was obvious that he tried to gain reward from tourists in the area, but he was also good at what he did. His English was just decently conversational, but his knowledge of the area was exceptional. It didn’t take much listening to him talk about the area before we decided that we’d follow him through even stranger streets for hours to come.
He knew exactly where to take great pictures and what locations and camera angles looked best.
The decision was extremely rewarding. We wound around local alleys, from one historical spot to the next. The amount of history and detail that this man gave along the way made hired tour guides we’ve used in the past seem shameful. He was well practiced. He knew exactly where to take great pictures and what locations and camera angles looked best.
He was also happy to adapt to our intrigue, as at one point we got distracted from a part of a complex by watching groups of young children run around on the roofs playing. Instead of getting pushy or trying to herd us elsewhere, he showed us the best location the locals use to access the roofs and before we knew it we were actually standing on top of old remnants of the water palace as we marveled at the homemade kites kids were flying around us.
A Lesson for Tourists in Yogyakarta
Eventually he did lead us to his friend’s shadow puppet store, and his family’s batik shop. But there was no hassling, merely a social introduction to those who worked there and an explanation of every step of the process.
And even after our group chose to walk out without a purchase he continued to lead us around and even explained details down to the plants growing around the Taman Sari. He picked not-yet-ripened star fruit from the side of the road for us, and we nibbled on the extremely sour fruit as he showed us how to walk back to where we could start to find our way home on our own.
Not only did the day provide us with an amazing cultural tour and a chance to get to know another part of Yogyakarta, but it also provided a valuable touring lesson. Although as foreigners we may be hassled and tried to be used for profit, as long as we approach the situation with the right attitude and the willingness to decide to embark on opportunities, we can have situations that could easily come off as annoying become great adventures that we can benefit from as well.