Christmas in my suitcase

Four Parfitts with stockings, hats and Tree of Thanks
Four Parfitts with stockings, hats and Tree of Thanks

Jogjakarta? Yes, that’s right. It was a surprise to us too. This time last year the Javanese city known for its temples at Borobudur and Prambanan meant little to us.

But it has come to pass that Joshua is on the Dharmasiswa scholarship at Gajah Mada university in Jogjakarta, studying Bahasa Indonesia and Sam landed in KL for six weeks at the start of December to work as editorial assistant for a major book project of mine.

And then it was Christmas…

So there we all were, randomly, in SE Asia in December. We had a gorgeous new villa with a ‘party terrace’ and it was the perfect place for a family Christmas… or so we thought.

But then Josh discovered he’d not get his passport back in time (it has been in the Indonesian Embassy getting him a student visa since August!) and so, on 20th December we switched plans. Instead of a turkey with the trimmings, a swim and a ping pong tournament in our garden overlooking the Petronas Towers and we’d pack a portable, homemade Christmas and take it with us. Our ‘local expert’ spent a day searching on Airbnb and found the perfect place. Hand-built teak bungalows, open to the elements, with plein air bathroom, four-poster (with mosquito net) and its own terrace, set in a permaculture garden, surrounded by padi fields, where we would be served organic breakfasts by a friendly staff. All this within half an hour of the city. And so it came to pass that on 23rd December a mother, a father and their 24-year-old son, travelled with AirAsia to Yabbiekayu  in the small village of Tembi. Arriving after night-fall, they were happy to discover that there was, indeed, room at the inn. The staff could not do enough to help us and never once stopped smiling. I think it was this first evening that Josh and Sam ate the majority of the pies.

Christmas could not have been more different nor more unplanned.

Portable Christmas

Christmas had to fit into a suitcase, so, in case this ever happens to you this is what I took:

  • A Christmas tablecloth
  • Four Christmas stockings (and no gift too large to fit in it)
  • A cracker making kit with paints, glue, paper, ribbons, fabric
  • A cloth advent calendar, which we converted into a Tree of Thanks
  • Four Christmas masks/reindeer headgear
  • A Christmas cake
  • Two dozen mince pies (made by Sam)

On Christmas Eve we headed for a beautiful waterfall at Sri Gethuk, taking Josh’s housemate, Delta, with us, and drank hot, smoked coconut water out of the shell. Later we went out for dinner at a superb vegetarian restaurant in the city called Milas before Sam and Josh headed off to the fair.

ianjoshsamsrigethuksmalljoshiansmokedcoconutsmallOn Christmas Day we made crackers, filling them with a homemade jokes and ordered a special dinner from our homestay of light, fragrant and delicious fish soup, gurnard in lemon butter and three 100% fruit ice creams served in a coconut. We later learned that Iput, the cook, used to work at Milas! We opened our stockings,  wore silly hats and filled the 24 pockets of the advent tree with notes of thanks. Josh then introduced us to his girlfriend, Noya, and we all shared our notes of gratitude from the Tree of Thanks while introducing her to the delights of an English Christmas cake.

ianjosamjoshpadifieldwithstockingssmall samjoshmakecrackerssmall joshshowsnoyapicsmall

On Boxing Day, Josh was to perform in a Pencak Silat (Indonesian martial arts) display at the governor’s residence so we all got up at an unearthly hour in order to be there, as stipulated, at 8.30 am. This was when we learned about archipelago timekeeping! People were there from 8 am, sure, but Josh’s fellow martial artists did not arrive till 9.45 and the event did not open till 10. Yet, we were given seats among the dignitaries and judges and fed and watered royally. We were getting used to sticking out like sore thumbs, pasty-white and tall compared to the locals and always the only foreigners in sight (apart from at Milas).


On 27th, after a quick trip to Prambanan we left Sam behind in Jogja for an extra week and Ian and Jo headed home. Josh headed out on his motorbike with Sam to buy him a mattress and pillow.

prambananfromhotelsmall joshbuyssammufcbeddingsmall 

How to make Iput’s Indonesian Fish Soup

Ingredients (you’ll have to guess at the quantities)

Shallots (sliced)
Garlic (sliced)
Turmeric (peeled and sliced)
Lime leaf
Indonesian bay leaf called salam, apparently it has a similar taste to thyme or oregano (finely chopped)
Lemongrass (finely chopped)
Spring onion (chopped)
Coriander (small bunch, chopped)
White fish
Fresh tomato (in eighths)
Juice of fresh limes


  1. Grind the shallots, garlic and turmeric in a blender or with a pestle and mortar
  2. Fry in oil in a pan that will be large enough to hold the finished soup.
  3. Add the water and bring to a simmer.
  4. Add the lemongrass and bay leaves.
  5. Simmer for five minutes.
  6. Add the spring onion and coriander.
  7. Add the fish and the tomato and simmer until fish cooked (five mins).
  8. Add lime juice to taste.
  9. Serve



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