Indonesia inanity

When Mood Music
2006-08-20 15:27:00

Last time I blogged, I was briefly in Bukitinggi, a fairly popular tourist destination in the Bukit Barisan mountains of west Sumatra. I’d been taken there by Nova, along with his daughter, Nurul, who wanted to get a new skin for her ‘handphone’ (bahasa Indonesia for ‘cellphone’).

Sunday 13th
Bukitinggi is a pretty town with a fantastic bridge across the main drag. An open-air rock gig was in progress in the clock-tower square when we arrived. Not really Nova or Nurul’s thing so we ate at a local restaurant, I blogged and burnt piccies to CD (the CD is back at my lodging, so I don’t have many of the pix of Bukitinggi with me just now) and then went to Danau Singkara so I could swim in an Indonesian lake. It’s so lovely to be able to swim in warm open water. Then we went back to Batu Sangkar (bahasa Indonesia for ‘stone cage’) and crashed out very early.

"" A minangkerbau roof in Bukitinggi
"" the clock-tower in Bukitinggi
"" Nurul
"" Nova and Nurul
"" Nova and Bertin with Bertin’s parents


Monday 14th
Nova took me to istana (palace) Silinduang Bulan. It was the palace of the king of kings of the Minangkerbau region and is absolutely beautiful. I can’t get over these Minangkerbau-style roofs.

"" The istana
"" detail of the entrance
"" embroidered(?) cloth inside the Istana
"" curtains separating a bed-chamber from the main room
"" the main hall
"" a model of a perahu
"" more curtains
"" practice for the independence day celebrations

We rushed around because Bertin, Nova’s wife, had a hospital appointment in Bukitinggi. So they took me there and loaded me on a ‘travel’ (a people carrier) bound for Padang.

I was met by friends of Nova who run a honda shop. I can’t remember many names (a too-common fault of mine) but two of the family, I and Aji, took me around Padang. This included a trip to the beach so I could swim in the sea, a visit to the local chinatown and eating roast corn on the cob on a bridge which is a local meeting point.

"" perahus on Padang beach
"" chillin’ on the bridge
"" Aji and Bruce
"" I and his fabby t-shirt
"" temple in Padang’s chinatown
"" wall of a temple in Padang’s chinatown

We then went to to a pub in the Bumiminang hotel and shook various bits of our stuff to a rock band. The band asked for requests – all I could think of that might have been in their genre was from 20 or more years before they were born. I’m a bit puzzled that a rock band didn’t even know of the existence of AC:DC, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. They did do a reasonable version of sweet child of mine but there’s not yet an south-east asian to rival An-GUS! Maybe I really am orang kentut tua (an old fart)! I hope ensures that refrains from commenting on that!

Tuesday 15th
The highlights of today were a visit to Universitas Andalas’ anthropology department (I is studying anthropology and Aji is studying political science)

"" Universitas Andalas’ main entrance

and a long journey in a ‘travel’ back to Pekanbaru. I had hoped to fly but absence of direct connections made the travel the only worthwhile option. The travel picked me up at 1.30, dodged around Padang picking up other panssengers and finally got under way around 3pm. The other passengers were a giggly lot and I’m sure my enjoyment of a CD of what sounded like trance music with samples of Abba’s Dancing queen, Depeche Mode just can’t get enough and other highlights of my misbegotten youth (all remixed by Aqua with contributions from Pinky and Perky) added to their fun as well as relieving me of some of my boredom and ischial bursitis. The travel dropped me back at Da In (Adriani’s oldest brother)’s house around 11pm so nothing else happened that day.

Wednesday 16th
I was taken back to Pekanbaru’s main mosque so I could get some photos that had been prevented by my camera batteries running out again on my previous visit. I’m a convert to Islamic art and architecture, even though I don’t think I’ll ever enter Islam. I’m happy to be a kafir!

"" in the entrance to Pekanbaru’s grand mosque
"" X and Dita in the entrance to Pekanbaru’s grand mosque
"" detail of the entrance to the main prayer area in Pekanbaru’s grand mosque
"" don’t look back in anger? It’s far to serene for any such emotion.
"" Well, I like it!
"" I wish my photography and writing did justice to the grandeur and emotions this building inspired in me.
"" On the other hand, Indonesia’s militarism leaves me cold.

I also found there were no direct flights that day to Palembang and the thought of a 14-hour journey by road left me cold. I knew that Independence day was being celebrated all over Indonesia so I asked if I could stay and see what Pekanbaru would do the next day. Da In and Uni Ai and their family were happy for me to stay and took me to a local sportsground where local women (the community/area is called Tangkeran Utara) played volleyball: in the full heat of the afternoon tropical sun, some while wearing full clothing and jilbabs!

"" volleyball!


Thursday 17th
We weren’t allowed into the official celebrations, despite trying our best to win over some Permuda* who were part of the event’s guard. This refusal of ordinary Sumatrans annoyed Dita, In and Ai’s oldest daughter who was our main bahasa Inggris/bahasa Indonesia translator and guide to Pekanbaru. While Indonesia has a very violent and military history, I can see her point that Independence is for all of them, not just the far-too-powerful military.
*Permuda were the freedom-fighters against European (mostly dutch) colonialism. These people are their offspring who like to keep this ‘tradition’ alive.

After this, we went to one of In and Ai’s relatives to surprise her on her birthday. The local tradition is to break eggs on the celebrant’s head, surprising them as much as possible. The birthday girl is a sister of Refni (wife of Riko, a teacher, and mother of Geelong) but I’m not sure how Refni is related to In and Ai. (I think either Refni or Riko is one of Ai’s siblings but I could easily be wrong!)

Riko then took us for another swim – this time in a glorious open-air 25-metre pool. It was just right for swimming 4 by 1 individual medleys. I’m very happy to report that my shoulders have become flexible enough to allow me to swim a full length of butterfly with a reasonably good arm action. (Well it felt good to me! Before now I haven’t been able to manage full extension over the water in the recovery part of the action. I still can’t master the two-beat kick but I want to get back into swimming. It’s been too long since I swam regularly. Please kick me into joining a club!)

We then went to watch Tangkeran Utara’s celebratory games. The events included a relay -fill-the-bottle-with-water-sucked-from-a-bucket-race, musical statues, tug’o’war, greasy-pole-over-stinking-mud fights and the highlight was a game of football between the local women. Again, I’m amazed they played full-on while wearing full ‘Islamic uniform’ with sarungs over this.

My participation in some of the events (well, how could I resist an opportunity to act my mental age in public?) were appreciated: one of the organisers turned up at the house with some participation prizes for me. I was choked with emotion: I’d turned up on spec, took part in their celebration, had to be hosed down in the family’s car-wash business because the mud stank worse than durian fruit* and they rewarded me. What? Another time where tears trickled…
*I’m sure the smell is from phosphorus pentasulphide. If you don’t know this, imagine the smell of a dump your partner would leave on your pillow upon finding out you’ve been repeatedly unfaithful to them with the entire Berlin Philharmonic, all of their instruments and their pet dachshunds and you’ll be about halfway to the utter awfulness of this chemical’s smell.

Friday 18th
A tearful departure from Pekanbaru. I’d had such a good time with In, Ai, Dita, Icha, Uul and their family and colleagues (they run a restaurant as well as a car wash) and I want to go back! I also want to show any of them as good a time if they ever get to the UK. They’ve set me a very high standard but I hope and belive that the UK can provide a good time. Jenni, can I enlist your help please?

Mandala Airlines whisked me to Medan and a beaten-up taxi took me to the northern bus station. A very beaten-up bus (whose conductor tried to charge me for three seats when my bags and I were only using two) bounced me to Bukit Lawang. On the journey, I got talking with Eru Cakra, a guide at Bukit Lawang, and a frenchwoman who’s been in Sumatra for about eight years. She now runs a restaurant there, after spending six years doing I don’t-know-what in Berastagi.

Although almost all the accommodation in Bukit Lawang was taken, Eru found me a place in a rumah tangga (a room up a ladder) and we agreed that he would take me first to the orang utan feeding station and then on a trek through the forest, followed by tubing back to the accommodation down the sungai (river) Bohorok.

Saturday 19th
Getting close to my cousins was very engaging. The visitors were taken across the sungai in a canoe lashed to some overhead guidance wires, then taken up a steep hill to a platform where new arrivals (mostly rescuees from zoos and areas that have been felled for farming) are fed bananas and skimmed milk. The aim of this diet is to encourage them to fend for themselves in the jungle so that they can learn independence. Orang utans are solitary creatures so this has to be done carefully to avoid overcrowding of territories. They can also apparently be aggressive, especially if they think you have food. (According to my guidebook, some guides cache food in the jungle so that their guidees are guaranteed close-up encounters of ‘wild’ orang utans, despite the damage this does to the independence programme. Fortunately, Eru wasn’t like this and made me run away when Minah, a particularly aggressive female dropped down 10 metres from me during the trek. I didn’t have time or inclination to stop for photgraphs and I promise you that the word ‘monkey’ was nowhere near my lips.

We also got some glimpses of gibbons high in the canopy and I’m very pleased with my experience of Indonesian jungle. I’d have liked to go on a two-day trek but I hadn’t enough money with me. Bah! Still, it’s hard to see what could have been better on the second day. I also throroughly enjoyed tubing back down the sungai with some other brits and if I had gone on the two-day version, I’d have missed the saturday night mash-up at the Jungle Inn.

On getting back to my place, I washed myself and some clothes in the sungai (it’s what the locals do, so why not me too?), slept for a couple of hours, donned my lunghi and a clean shirt, ate nasi goreng (fried rice) at a nearby restaurant, played a couple of games of pool with one of the women who’s somehow involved with the restaurant* and then went to find the source of the music further up the track. Many of the guides and visitors were partying in a nearby bar. After a couple of Bintang beers, I was up with them. (OMG, I even danced to crazy frog, a firm favourite of the Indonesians.) I’m sure you can imagine the scene (and those of you who’ve known me for more than ten years will probably have similar images burnt into your brains. Ooops!) and I don’t have the words to describe it but it was a lot of fun and I finally crashed out about 2 am this morning.
*’spots’ are kecil (‘small’), stripes are besar (‘big’), minang is ‘winner’ or ‘victorious’ and ‘gift’ can be translated as kado

Sunday 20th
Well I paid for the energetic day by being woken with a bad dose of Imam Bonjol’s revenge. Uurrgghh. Water and immodium seem to have controlled it and I’ve returned to Medan by tourist bus. (I couldn’t stand the thought of another three-hour journey by public bus with my guts threatening to rebel.) I’m staying in a small but cute family-run guest-house that provides mozzie nets and will be back here on the 24th (after going to danau Toba tomorrow) so I can start my return to the UK on the 25th. That’s going to be a bit mad: flights from Medan to Singapore, then Singapore to Calcutta on the 25th, followed by flights from Calcutta to Mumbai, then from Mumbai to London on the 27th. I’m not quite sure when I’ll get back to Worcester. I think by the time I’e been to danau Toba I’ll have been away long enough. I do want to return both to India and Indonesia and I want to keep up the friendships I’ve made in these two countries but it’s time to keep up with my UK friendships too, and time to find productive sources of income!

I’m now in a reasonably trendy cybercafe, listening to Indonesian attempts at hip-hop, trance and garage and trying to upload photos.

[Er, can’t do any more tonight]

I’ll add more into this entry if and when… So, for almost the last time from Asia, see you later, space-cats! And thanks to this, I can say Selamat tidur, orang asing kuching!


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