On March 21, 1907, on his second trip throughout Asia, Charles Lang Freer penned a letter to his business partner, Frank Hecker. “There is much in Java that’s disappointing but it’s all owing to the Dutch,” he opined. Writing from Batavia (present-day Jakarta) on the island of Java, Indonesia, Freer lamented the slowness of the postal system, insufficient transportation, and other frustrations of life under the Dutch colonial government.
At the same time, Freer was bewitched by the beauty of the island. He had traveled to Indonesia in order to study the Hindu and Buddhist temples, with the goal of seeing all the ruins on Java. Intrepid as he was, it’s easy to understand why Freer did not fully meet his goal. Java is home to hundreds of sacred structures that are woven throughout the landscape. They mark the peaks and slopes of the island’s numerous volcanoes, they line the banks of rivers, and they stand in the middle of what once were vast cities. Freer found the landscape “the most beautiful,” the “ground the most fertile, the gardens most fascinating,” and the people, “excepting the foreigners, the happiest.” The temple ruins, he ascertained, were among the greatest in the world.