If you are attracted to the culture and the language, Yogyakarta feels like home; with its vibrant art scene, major centers of excellence, and friendly locals.
Reading Indonesia’s most livable cities in the 2014 Most Livable City Index, a survey by the Indonesian Association of Planners (IAP) came as no surprise to anybody— including me. The survey, conducted in 17 cities across the archipelago, shows that Balikpapan, Surakarta, Malang, Yogyakarta, Palembang, Makassar and Bandung are on the top of the list. Personally speaking, I say yes over one of the cities, Yogyakarta.
Having lived in the city for two years, it is more than enough to be a part of Yogyakarta life with its ups and downs. The city deserves a lot to be acknowledged. Despite its multiple identities, at the very least, Yogyakarta has been and is still known for the country’s student and art city.
It is no exaggeration to say that Yogyakarta is the country’s most favorable city for many college students. Currently home to nearly 100 universities or colleges, both public and private, the extraordinary number is inseparable to the city’s Gadjah Mada University, one of Indonesia’s oldest universities, which sparked precedent for the burgeoning graduate schools and colleges in the city.
Students find the academic environment in Yogyakarta very conducive thanks to the 80 plus publishing houses scattered around the city. With agreeable quality printing, the city’s publishers somehow able to offer lower book prices, setting the scene for students hungry for affordable books.
Those interested in cultural milieu, not only does Yogyakarta has become a meeting point of diverse ethnic groups, races, or nationals, it also plays a major role as the center and the guardian of Javanese arts and culture. Historical sites and traditions are well- preserved, while old fashioned bike-taxis and horse carriages hustling around, giving a sense of a slow moving city where time and space are ample to turn ideas into art.
Yogyakarta is also a great place for artists to live and work together, with close-knit local communities supportive and welcoming towards most artistic works. As a Padangnese, it is much to my surprise that more than 200 artists living in the city are of Minang people, ranging from sculptors to painters. High appreciation of the arts is a characteristic of the city. Even on weekdays, you can find a lot of performances on the street corners of the city.
Exclusivity has no place in the city, even for the art. When the Jogja Biennale, one of Yogyakarta’s main art and culture festival, first took place in 2007, many criticized it for its disorganized and exclusive management. After much deliberation, the event has become more inclusive over the years, involving local communities and even traditional artists with no academic background.
I personally believe that central to Yogyakarta’s peace, respect for plurality and cultural affluance is its sultanate; with Sultan Hamengkubuwono X and the royal family as symbols of both of continuity as well as flexibility of Javanese identity, and the Kraton a celebration of this great syncretism culture. They represent a fusion of legend, history, culture and politics — a combination of factors so ingrained in the Indonesian life.
Quite importantly, students and artists have no trouble meeting up to brainstorm and seek feedback or inspirations from their peers. In places such as Jakarta, where the roads are incredibly congested, getting to places, galleries or universities would be such a task, making it almost impossible to fit more than one appointments within a few hours.