Around Yogyakarta with Mr. Harry van Yogya

I promised in my previous post that I would introduce you to the new acquaintance I’d made in front of Indies Heritage Hotel, Yogyakarta who happens to be a friend of my dad’s. Well here is me keeping my promise and telling you about this awesome man called Harry van Yogya.

Harry van Yogya? Is that even a real name?

Well, Harry van Yogya is actually a pseudonym created by Mr. Blasius Haryadi for himself and it became the name that he’s widely known for. If the name sounds familiar to you, it might very well be that you’ve heard it before since he’s actually quite a well-known author. His book, “The Becak Way” published in 2011 and chronicling his life as a becak or rickshaw driver led to him being interviewed by several national media channels.

And yes, you read that right. Aside from being an author, Mr. Harry is also a becak or rickshaw driver in the city of Yogyakarta. Until this day, you’ll find him and his rickshaw at the touristy lane of Prawirotaman, ready to take you around the city.

Mr. Harry's Book
Mr. Harry’s Book

Prior to meeting him in Yogyakarta, I took the time to read his book and learn about who he is. If you expect becak drivers to be simple in their perspective, only caring about money, and having questionable moral conscience, Mr. Harry breaks that those expectations in the best way possible. Through his choice of words and the way he talks about his life, you will gain huge respect for him and his intelligence. He’s incredibly keen to break the stereotypes people often have towards becak drivers and one of his goals is to get becak drivers in Yogyakarta united through an online community where they can share their ideas and help each other out. After learning English as well as the ins and outs of the internet from foreign tourists he took around the city, he established that community through Facebook while utilizing social media to introduce himself as a becak driver to incoming tourists. The book also showcases his ideas for tourism in Yogyakarta which makes a lot of sense and makes me wonder why no one’s actually started to help put them into action.

After reading “The Becak Way”, I was honestly so excited to meet him and ask questions I got from the book. But when I actually saw him in the flesh, I was somewhat starstruck and pleasantly surprised by his humility given his fame. I found him in a T-shirt, shorts and flip flops outside Indies Heritage Hotel lying inside his becak, scrolling his Android phone. When my dad and I said hello to him, he leaped up and shook our hands. We walked to the coffee stall I talked about in my previous post and he got coffee with a cigarette.

I introduced myself as the girl who had just followed him on Twitter a couple of weeks ago since we had been DM-ing each other on Twitter prior to the meeting but I hadn’t let him know that I’m my dad’s daughter because my dad and Mr. Harry had met a couple of times before. His modesty made all those questions I had completely evaporate and we started talking as if we were just two people updating each other about our lives.

I learned a lot about his life after the book. After all the interviews and publicity, his life didn’t change drastically. He still lives in the area of Bantul, still makes most of his money from driving tourists around in his becak, and still goes to church regularly. He said that although the media attention was nice and opened doors to opportunities for him, they weren’t around for long. Also, after losing his wife in the 2006 Yogyakarta earthquake which he talked about so vividly in his book, he is now remarried to a nice woman who takes care of his kids well.

“The main difference between life as a single father and remarriage is that I cannot stay overnight in the city now. She wants me to come home everyday,” he said.

One of his sons has started his job and the other is starting university with a full scholarship due to his brilliant grades. His only daughter is now in elementary school and has just received her first communion.

“My son Kevin got accepted into Sekolah Tinggi Perikanan Jakarta [the best public school for fishery in Indonesia] first and Bu Susi [the current minister of fishery] said she wanted to help out with getting him there. But he also tested at Universitas Gadjah Mada [the second best public university in Indonesia] and got accepted there for the major of Applied Chemistry. I told him to choose which school he wants to attend and he picked Universitas Gadjah Mada. So I called Bu Susi, got patched to her assistant and ask him to give her my apologies,” he detailed.

We also talked about the time he drove his rickshaw all the way to Jakarta to fulfill the promise he’d made if Joko Widodo won the presidential election.

“At the time, one of his opponents had been helping me out financially. But when he heard about the promise, he immediately withdrew his financial aid. When Jokowi won, my friend and I actually fulfilled that promise. It took 10 days of us driving our becak but we made it and met the president. We didn’t receive any financial support whatsoever from that, but I didn’t mind doing what I did,” he explained.

An hour later, we finally got on his becak for him to show us his Yogyakarta.

Exploring Yogyakarta on a becak definitely gave me a new view of the city. The slow pace of the man-powered becak allowed me to pay more attention to things I wouldn’t have seen in a car. I saw a stall specializing in making coffins near my hotel. I saw becak drivers sleeping in front of shops. There were tourists walking in the dark.

We started our journey around Yogyakarta by passing through Prawirotaman lane which was lined up with bars and coffee shops. This is where Mr. Harry usually hangs out to wait for his passengers and he took time to say hi to his fellow becak drivers.

Prawirotaman

Mr. Harry then took us back to the open streets and huffed and puffed as he pedaled the becak, navigating through Yogyakarta’s avenues and back alleys while keeping a conversation going. I absolutely respected him for even managing to talk while pedaling and pushing perhaps twice his body weight in a rickshaw. He asked if we wanted to stop by some bakpia stores or batik shops and after reading the commissions he gets from our purchase at those shops, my dad and I said yes. We didn’t mind shopping in those shops knowing that it would help his kid continue her education and the prices were way below Jakarta’s standards anyway with similar quality.

We then carried on on our city tour on a becak and Mr. Harry took us around Malioboro, Keraton and its two squares. Even though I’d been to these parts of the city before, going on a becak gave me new angles to capture them in photograph that I hadn’t got before.

Streets of Yogyakarta

Malioboro

The road between Malioboro and Kraton

Kraton's gate

Finally, we stopped at Mr. Harry’s favorite angkringan to grab dinner together. Amid cigarette smoke and loud laughter of other diners, we also talked about the becak community he established which has sadly disbanded.

“It disbanded a couple of years ago. We became too filled with ego and driven by profit to care about each other as a community the way we used to. It just didn’t work out. And now, we have actually become more divided. Some becak drivers actually used electric motors to power their rickshaw and that’s cheating because most of us still pedal our way. They get the same amount of money for less effort, that’s not fair,” he said.

We continued our conversation through dinner and afterwards, Mr. Harry took my dad and I back to the hotel since I was physically whacked out from the long day of traveling. Throughout the becak ride back to the hotel, Mr. Harry gave me recommendations of where to eat in Yogyakarta and what to do here while pointing out the places he mentioned that we came across.

My meeting with Mr. Harry van Yogya gave me a lesson on humility in spite of your talents and the fame you got. Throughout our conversation, Mr. Harry never focused on his fame and what he accomplished, but simply on the things happening in his life. He also didn’t hold back on sharing his knowledge and lessons he learned, even when he knew it may not be advantageous for his career. The exposure he got from writing his book didn’t change him at all and the insightful man whose ideas you’ll find in “The Becak Way” is the same man you’ll find today.

If you find yourself in Yogyakarta, contact him through his Twitter account or give him a call at +6281915546422.  He’ll be happy to drive you around the city – if he’s not fully booked for the day that is. You can also read his writings at www.kompasiana.com/harry.van.yogya where he shares his idea and stories from his life in Bahasa Indonesia. Every bit of his writing is as interesting as his entire book.

Harry van Yogya

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