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Open the Doors to Asia

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The Borobudur Temple May Fall Short of the Seven Wonders of the World List, But It’s Still Pretty Awesome

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Sometimes we just have to pause our fantastic internet-fueled 21st century lives to appreciate elements of the world that have outlived us, centuries over. This is one of those times, and Indonesia’s Borobudur temple is one of those things.

The magnificent Borobudur temple is the world’s biggest Buddhist monument. Built during the reign of the Syailendra dynasty, the temple’s design in the Gupta architecture style reflects India’s influence on the region, yet there are enough indigenous scenes and elements incorporated to make Borobudur uniquely Indonesian. This awe-inspiring monument is Indonesia’s most visited tourist attraction, and a famous icon of Indonesia’s cultural heritage.

The monument is located in the Kedu Valley, in the south central part of the island of Java. The full Borobudur Temple Compound consists of three monuments: the Borobudur temple and two smaller temples situated to the east on a straight axis to Borobudur. The two temples are the Mendut Temple, whose depiction of Buddha is represented by a formidable monolith accompanied by two Bodhisattvas, and the Pawon Temple, a smaller temple whose inner space does not reveal which deity might have been the object of worship. Those three monuments represent phases in the attainment of Nirvana.

The structure, composed of 55,000 square meters of lava-rock is erected on a hill in the form of a stepped-pyramid of six rectangular stories, three circular terraces, and a central stupa forming the summit. The whole structure is in the form of a lotus, the sacred flower of Buddha.

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There is no historical record of exactly who is responsible for building the massive temple, but comparison of the conditions of different carvings and the traditional inscriptions made at the outset or end of such a massive undertaking place its construction between approximately 750 AD and 825 AD. So, it took a human life span to erect, and it’s been in place for over a millennium.

It hasn’t been an uneventful millennium-and-then-some for the Borobudur temple, though. Ravaged by weather, volcanic ash, and natural jungle overgrowth, it was essentially abandoned and left to decay, only to be “rediscovered” in the early 1800s when British and Dutch colonizers set out on expeditions to take full inventory of their new terrain.

It was a curio, visitor attraction, and source of looted souvenirs for the remainder of that century, until government officials embarked upon a restoration between 1907 and 1911. That was focused primarily on cleaning the sculptures, but subsequent restoration efforts would be needed to address moisture and drainage issues and structural damage.

A full restoration was launched by the Indonesian government, with aid from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). That took from 1975 to 1982, leading to UNESCO listing Borobudur as a World Heritage Site.

Although it is frequently referred to as “one of the seven wonders,” it is unclear whether Borobudur temple was ever actually on an internationally recognized list of the Seven Wonders of the World, as there have been a number of lists compiled and revised since the 1st list of ancient wonders, but there has been recent outrage that a campaign to include Borobudur on the “New 7 Wonders” list was unsuccessful. It is a wonder in the court of public opinion, and it is undeniably an awesome marvel of design, construction, and longevity.

Can’t Start Your Day Without Coffee? You Have Indonesia To Thank; Specifically the Island of Java

 

First of all, did you know that coffee grows on trees? What we know as coffee beans are actually coffee seeds from a fruit called a “cherry” that grows on tall coffee trees in more than 70 different countries. Not all of that bounty will be suitable for your morning commute, though. Very specific conditions are necessary to produce coffee crops with high quality beans.

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Coffee production is at its prime around the equator, as these areas provide the desired conditions to grow perfect crops. Ideal temperatures for coffee are between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit, and rainfall should be over six inches a month.

The trees also require quick draining soil and humidity helps to produce good crops. This is why coffee is commonly grown in elevated locations, to get the best crop possible. These equatorial regions are called the “bean belt,” a strip of the planet that would cut straight across a map. However, coffee grown at these levels will be more expensive because there is less oxygen, which means the coffee takes longer to mature.

Many of Indonesia’s islands fit this description, which is why the island nation is one of the world’s leading producers of coffee. Brazil still holds the top spot, but Indonesia isn’t far behind, having had coffee harvesting introduced to the region by Dutch colonizers in the 17th century.

Much of Indonesia as a whole harvests and exports Robusta coffee, but the island of Java exports Arabica beans; Robusta and Arabica are the two types of coffee most widely grown and harvested. There has been contention about the differences between Robusta and Arabica coffees, but experts generally agree that Robusta is higher in caffeine content but lower in general quality than Arabica, therefore accounting for less than a quarter of the worldwide production of coffee.

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The finest Java coffee comes from plantations on the five largest estates established by the Dutch government when Java was part of the Dutch East Indies. The largest coffee estates on Java, encompassing nearly 10,000 acres of coffee plantings, are Djampit (the biggest producer), Blawan, Pancoer, and Kayumas. Coffee has been growing in this area since the 17th century and has become one of the coffees enjoyed most frequently by people all around the world.

People who know the specific region where their coffee beans were sourced might use the name of the region when referring to it for accuracy. Similarly, coffee connoisseurs, not unlike wine lovers or professional sommeliers, might use the proper regional name out of respect.

Then there are the rest of us, the loads of people who call coffee “java” without really considering the literal source, the island of Java. “Java” has become near-ubiquitous as slang for coffee. By any name, coffee is a necessity for many, and now you know a bit more about how it gets from the tree to your lips.

Cobra Blood: An Indonesian Aphrodisiac

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You may not know it, but there are lots of reasons to drink cobra blood. Don’t believe us? Just ask the US Marines who partook during in-depth jungle survival training, or “Bizarre Foods” host Andrew Zimmern, who tipped back a glass just for the taste of it.

Snakes have been prominently featured in culture and healing throughout history, even having a starring role in the most famous story from the Bible. Asian medicinal practices have been using various snake parts in treatment since 100 AD. Cobra blood in particular is prized for its supposed healing properties, and has been used for everything from rashes and arthritis to surgical recovery and cancer.

There is, however, a slightly more salacious motivation driving those who visit snake blood purveyors in Indonesia and other parts of Southeast Asia: S-E-X.

Cobra blood has long been revered as a potent aphrodisiac and libido kick-starter. Visitors to these regions will find cobra blood offered in certain bars, restaurants, and also trucks and trolleys on the street. There is no conclusive scientific or medical evidence to the sex-drive-boosting claims, but that doesn’t stop masses of people from squeezing fresh blood from a snake’s body into their mouth.

That, or sucking the blood directly from the body of a snake that has just been beheaded in front of you, is the best way to consume the blood. And let’s be honest, it’s also the most badass. We even have a hunch that this badass-ness could be contributing to these libidinous claims.

Most aphrodisiacs, especially from the Far East, are derived from creatures that are either dangerous or extremely. The belief that power can be drawn from the bodies of rare, poisonous, or fierce animals operates on multiple levels. On one hand, the user can imagine that some part of the animal’s biological fierceness is now literally within them as well, and on the other, it’s thought that ingesting or slaughtering a dangerous animal is in itself a display of bravery and strength. The more poisonous the species is, the more potent its aphrodisiac qualities.

 

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For those who don’t want to suck the blood straight from the snake’s body, there are other options. For the more genteel vampires out there, cobra blood cocktails are quite popular, utilizing a base of rice wine or vodka. Or, you could always toss it back from a shot glass.

Fear not, conservation-minded folks. It’s common to cook up the entire snake once you’re done ingesting its blood, either by roasting the meat and using it in soups, deep-fried on skewers, or just sautéed as a main dish.

There are restaurants that will let you select your snake and aid in its murder, and more adventurous tourists can prove their invincibility by biting the snake’s still-beating heart out of its body and feeling it beat in your mouth before you swallow it. Not kidding. This is a thing that people do.

At that point, it makes sense that your virility would be full and throbbing. But be warned that if you copy this behavior, which many people did after it was portrayed in the 2000 Leonardo DiCaprio movie The Beach, you’re risking infection and possible salmonella poisoning. But that doesn’t matter to a big, strong beast like you, right?

Take a look at the video below to see if you could handle it. Pro tip: It’s perfectly OK to say “no thank you.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qNgziIrqCro

Roses Are Red, Violets Are Blue, Indonesia’s Rafflesia Flower Is 5 Feet Tall and Smells like Rotting Flesh

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Flowers are generally considered to be nice and pleasant, right? A lovely gift, a very traditional romantic gesture, a way to celebrate special occasions, even a way to say “I love you.”

If you gave someone a Rafflesia, however, it probably wouldn’t go over so well. More than likely, they’d be crumbling under the size and weight of the thing, or nauseous from the stench.

The Rafflesia is a parasitic flower native to the jungles of Indonesia, and at 3’6” in diameter and weighing in at 24 lbs., it holds the all-time size record for flowers. When Sir Stamford Raffles discovered the Rafflesia arnoldii in 1818, he described it as “perhaps the largest and most magnificent flower in the world,” and modestly named it after himself and his companion, surgeon-naturalist Dr. James Arnold.

The world’s largest flower lacks many of the traditional markers of what makes a flower: namely leaves, stems, and roots. The huge, five-petaled parasitic flower has nutrient-absorbing threads to suck the life from its host plant; a particular type of vine called the Tetrastigma vine, which grows only in undisturbed rainforests.

There are at least 13 species of Rafflesia, but two of them haven’t been sighted since World War Two and are presumed extinct. The record-holding Rafflesia arnoldii is also facing extinction. To make matters worse, no one has ever cultivated Rafflesia in a garden or laboratory.

This might be due to the smell.

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The Rafflesia is commonly referred to as the corpse flower. It was designed by nature to emit a foul odor mimicking rotting flesh, which attracts certain insects like carrion flies, who then provide pollination and ensure that the stinky circle of life carries on. The repulsive smell of the flower is due to the reddish tentacle-like, branched ramentae, inside the corolla of petals.

The Rafflesia arnoldii is an iconic symbol of the Southeast Asian rainforest, and is often used in tourist brochures to symbolize the rich biodiversity of the region’s forests. The flower has also been depicted on Indonesian postage stamps on several occasions. The flower is used as the symbol of the Flora Malesiana project, which aims to describe all flowering plants from the region between Thailand and Australia.

Although officially on the endangered list, the shockingly large and stinky flowers are a tourist staple. The flowers appear on national Indonesian literature and brochures, and draw intrigued visitors from far and wide.

The Rafflesia won’t win any beauty contests (or be handed out to any pageant winners either,) but it has value as part of Indonesia’s ecosystem and tourism industry. Just steer clear of them come Valentine’s Day unless you want to start a fight.