©Sally Arnold

Blindfolds and Chicken Cars

I don’t know which is more fun: trying to walk blindfolded through two trees (well watching other people try to do it), or riding the chicken car.

Whenever I visit Yogyakarta in Central Java, Indonesia I try to convince my groups to join me for an evening of fun and games at the Ulun Ulun Selatan, the southern square of the Sultan’s Palace. As here, every evening Large crowds gather to try their luck waking blindfolded through two large and ancient Banyan trees, as the local belief is, if you succeed in this task your heart is pure. The game is known locally as “Masangin“, an abbreviation for masuk antara beringan, literally ‘entering between banyan trees’. It may seem a simple task, as the trees are rather far apart, but it’s surprisingly difficult, to a degree that I’m sure there’s some magic involved.

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The “magical” trees of the Alun Alun Selatan. Sultan’s Palace, Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

Yogyakarta and particularly the Kraton area (Sultan’s palace), are full of mystical stories and legends. It’s a melting pot of Animism, Hinduism, and a Javanese mystical version of Islam. The palace itself is the geographical centre of Yogyakarta, and is also the centre of an imaginary line running form the very active volcano, Mt Merapi in the North, to the wild and dangerous sea at Parangtritis Beach in the South. Legend has it that the Queen of the sea is the spiritual wife of the Sultan, and once a year she comes for him in her chariot following this very road.

In the square, blindfolds can be hired for 5,000 Rp (about 50 US cents), but some just tie a scarf around their eyes. It’s hysterical watching the participants in this blind man’s bluff – some make a beeline to the gap between the trees, then suddenly, at the last minute, turn abruptly off course. Some start off badly; from the beginning taking a direct route to the grassy area at the the side. Others seem to walk around and around circling the square, never making it near the trees. Groups of friends gather to guide and yell “Permissi!”, “Awas!”, “Excuse me!”, “Watch out!” to people in the path of their blindfolded friends. Everyone is laughing, photographing, and pointing to the hapless trying. Ironically there are usually a couple of blind beggars too, adding more obstacles to the task

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The chicken car – a mobile karaoke extravaganza.
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Pedal cars and real cars and motorbikes fight for space on the road. Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

In recent years this game has become so popular, that other businesses have taken advantage of the instant crowds, and have opened here too. The are many stalls selling glow sticks and flashing light novelties; food stalls, and the aforementioned chicken car. Actually there is more than the chicken, there is the shark car, and numerous cartoon character covered beetle cars. They are pedal powered mobile karaoke machines covered and adorned with multicoloured flashing lights. You pay to peddle one or two circuits of the square jostling for space on the road amongst the regular cars and motorbikes. I’ve paid between 30,000 Rp and 80,000 Rp ($3–$8 USD) for the same journey, so depends on your bargaining skills and how many in your group. The chicken car, however, is rather special. It’s powered by four people peddling, with space for two extra passengers on the bottom (5 extra if you’re Indonesian), and another 4–6 passengers on the top level (there is a ladder to climb). The music blares from the speakers and everyone waves to each other as they pass. Some take their time and slowly meander around the street, others hoon on by, narrowing avoiding other cars. I can’t guarantee the health and safety of this activity, but I can guarantee that it’s LOTS OF FUN! However, be warned, don’t combine the two and wear the blindfold while, driving!

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