There's a market for everything...
Trip Start May 31, 2008
13Trip End Jul 14, 2008
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What an amazing adventure I had this evening...unexpected as they usually are. Yogyakarta, (promounced joeg-ja-karta), which is a city in Java, has a bird market right in the middle of town, near the Sultan's palace. I thought I'd check it out...never been to a bird market before...expected a bunch of caged birds for sale. My main objective was to not breathe too deeply so as to avoid inhaling some avian flu. So I weave my way around the palace grounds...a little bit about all that first.
Yes there is a very important leader here...and it's a Sultan. I guess there are three cities in Java that have sultans ...a long tradition of sultanry. And there is a town within the city that's walled in with these thick white cement walls that's sort of like Sultanland. It's a small city within the bigger city and it not only contains the palace but also the Water Palace, which is where the Sultan used to hang out with his concubines. It's a few bathing pools...very royal looking...water flowing from the dragons mouth. The Sultan would have a concubine for every land he conquered...in one case 27 women representing him as a superpower conqueror of 27 lands. So he'd bathe with them periodically as well as other assorted activities I'm sure...and when they had children together, that child would be 2nd level in the caste system because s/he was a blue blood...not bad really.
So this Sultanland, the community, also has lots of small houses within it to provide homes for the many, many people serving the sultan's needs...like hundreds of people. Those people were, and still are, provided housing free of charge as long as they pass the family job from one generation to the next. We meet the family who serve a custodial role for the Sultan...specifically the cleaner of the toilet bowls in Sultan land. And this guy proudly tells us about his family having passed down that job for 7 generations and how his older brother will inherit it when his father dies. And that allows the whole family to remain in Sultanland free of charge....clearly there's a certain amount of prestige in serving the sultan in any way.
People around here seem to be proud of their Sultan....he is the third of his series...he has his royal elephants and this one only has one wife while the previous ones had more. The present one has no sons (only 5 daughters), so when he dies-he's only 57 now- his 40 year old brother will inherit the job instead of his son. I don't exactly know how the Sultan relates to the President of the country (whose name I really like...Cecelio Bambang Yudho-yuno)...I imagine the Sultan is largely royalty however he collects taxes and seems to dictate a lot of what happens. Anyway, enough about Sultanville for now. Back to the bird market...
So I finally find the bird market and I'm looking around...it's very congested...narrow places to walk, loaded with people, bird cages, and what stands out immediately is the food for the birds, etc. There are tanks of crickets and big roaches...there are rice baskets swarming with big ants (and rice)...there are sugar cane stalks hollowed out with maggots inside...all potential bird food. There are twists and turns to this market...you squeeze your way thru the stalls...I'm the only non-local that I see...and as I weave my way around I start to see more than just birds. I see turtles and then monkeys.
This man comes up to me asking me the routine questions...where are you from...how long have you been in Yogyakarta...and then starts giving me a personal tour of the place, showing me all the corners that hold animals. I see a baby monkey in a cage...looking tiny and scared...I play with its hand...tears a little piece of my heart...I'd like nothing more than to release it and take it somewhere else. I ask the guy what will happen to this monkey. He says someone will buy it and train it to do things for him. I ask how I might go about bringing this monkey into the USA if I should want to....is that possible? He assures me that he can do it and I begin to realize that he's thinking I might be interested in smuggling some of these animals abroad.
Now I've read books about the trade in exotic pets...it's mind boggling how much it goes on and how animals are mistreated in the process. Anyway, I decide to go with the flow...see how far I can go with this...learn a little bit about how the illegal trade in exotic animals works...it happening right in front of me. So my guide now starts to show me all sorts of stuff I would not have seen otherwise...stuff that's under canvas and behind doors...I see some huge snakes, iguanas, small bats, way too big bats hanging upside down and tracking me as I try to take their picture. I see animals that I can't really identify, like this thing that's about a foot and a half long with a snake-like head and four limbs - it's supposed to be related to the Komodo Dragon - and a long and narrow forked tongue that it keeps lashing out to sense me. What breaks my heart is that its face is bruised and bloodied because it's working so hard to get out of its cage, pressing its mouth around the wires.
As much as I am totally fascinated and surprised to be so close to where this kind of stuff happens, seeing these animals stuck in cages experiencing pain, imprisoned, and with perilous destinies...it is so sad ... heartbreaking....and it makes it hard to continue this absurd tour I've found myself on. But my guide continues to reveal details to me...
He tells me about how he handles his customer in Germany who deals in exotic pets - shows me this guys card. He says that no longer can you successfully smuggle birds out of the country...you used to be able to pay people off at the airport, but now the way to do it is to smuggle the eggs across. And you don't even have to carry them....he has a friend make him fake shoes and he puts the eggs in a carved out, well-padded heel and then sends them across undetected. He says he knows where to go in the jungle and, at night, he listens to the sounds of the animals...the birds. Then the next morning, knowing exactly where their nests are, he goes and swipes their eggs. It only takes about 4 days to send them by air to the dealer. All seems pretty far out to me.
But this guy says he can get me any type of bird I might want. He leads me down all these alleyways to show me these prized and illegal gotten cockateels. They are beautiful, big white birds with yellow plumes on their heads...he's telling me how they will mate and produce eggs. Or they will be sold to someone at ten million rupiahs locally...that's about one thousand dollars...lots of money here.
We continue our weaving thru these back laneways of the bird market...he continues to lift canvas flaps and uncover beautifully colored birds...I can't remember their names...but most are from the jungle. He tells me how to set them up at home....how big the cage should be...how to place it on soft ground so they can scratch it up to lay their eggs there without breaking them. How and what to feed them...all the details of bird care. Its as though he's still interested in their welfare once they get to their destination...which, for me, is an odd mix with dealing in their illegal trade...seems somehow incongruous.
I want to walk around the bird market a bit more...that little monkey is calling me back, like I could ever possibly share in or ease it's pain... The dealer says that maybe he could arrange to bring a small monkey across....with it slightly drugged and well fed and given milk every 4 hours, he can keep it quiet...and he might be able to pay off friends at the Indonesian airport too help him get it out of the country. I'm more than done with this charade...I've learned enough... the images of these trapped animals is not easily forgotten...the striking reality of the situation is almost unmanageable. My guide provides me with all the contact information I might need to request a shipment. I head out of this underworld of animal trade and back into the busy streets to contemplate my part in this seemingly absurd picture.