The idea of visiting Yogyakarta was hatched as the perfect excuse for
escaping the cliches and hackneyed rituals of the Chinese New Year, and was
conceived half a year before the dreaded season descended amidst the din of
lion dances, popping firecrackers, Chinese New Year "music", mahjong and
The venerable Hotel Phoenix (pronounced "Phone-nick" locally by the taxi
drivers) was given a major refurbishment and re-opened on 14 May 2004 by
the present Governor of Yogyakarta Hamengku Buwono X.
The hotel is a veritable feast for the eyes, with artifacts, ornaments and
interior design detailing in every corner to titillate and delight the visual
senses. A glance in any direction will land on some ornate vase, woodcarving
on the wall, sculptural work, floral arrangement, mosaical motif or designer
It is the local version of Singapore's Raffles hotel, at a quarter of the price. To me, the symbol of the Phoenix is metaphorically apt to signify the rebirth and renewal of the hotel - in preserving the old and re-inventing itself to keep up with the modern.
Islam, the ruling visual aesthetic as seen in architecture and household
artefacts (statues, ornaments, furniture) is also influenced by the presence of
these places, e.g. the stone friezes of scenes from the Ramayana and
Borobodur and Prambanen are both about an hour's drive from the city
centre and can be covered in one day. They were both built
contemporaneously and share similar dimensions and building materials.
They are a powerful reminder that different religions, although related and
sharing a common history, and polytheistic, can co-exist peacefully.
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