It isn’t long after daybreak when Bama and I find ourselves in a small slice of Europe. Across the tree-lined street, not yet spoiled by the din of motorcycle traffic, the painted copper dome of a church glints in the first rays of the morning sun. Around us rise noble structures in brick and stone, some crowned with the narrow, steep-sided gables of a country halfway across the world. Semarang has one of the best-preserved historic centres of any major city in Indonesia, and we are standing at its very heart. Read more
Posts tagged ‘Java’
The hike to Kawah Ijen begins with a struggle. It is most likely the sulphurous fumes rising from the depths of the volcano, combined with the effects of little sleep. Bama tells me he doesn’t feel well – he is gripped by nausea. We limp along a trail of volcanic ash, taking refuge on the gnarled, low-slung branches and tree stumps beside the route.
Imagine an island seven degrees south of the equator, blessed with rich volcanic soil, where broad coastal plains rise to the hills and a chain of mystical 3,000-metre peaks. An island roughly the size of Greece, of sprawling cities, endless rice fields, and raw, otherworldly landscapes where you might find boiling lakes and plumes of steam billowing from the earth. This island is known as Java, and it is a food-lover’s paradise. Read more
If we only believe the sensationalism of Fox News, CNN America and other media outlets, Indonesia is the kind of country a lot of people might want to avoid. Historically, it has made world headlines for all the wrong reasons – plane crashes, violent protests, terrorist bombings and large-scale natural disasters. Read more
Overwhelmed. That is the feeling I get on arrival at the guesthouse on the outskirts of Banyuwangi. We have just finished a six and a half hour train ride from Surabaya, and the owner tells us we can get a better deal on a hike to Ijen if we decide to go that night – which means leaving at 1:00am. Read more
Indonesian TV stations these days have been peppering their news broadcasts with “suka-duka Idul Fitri”, a round-up of the positives (suka) and negatives (duka) over the long weekend. It has been a privilege to spend Idul Fitri, or Eid, with Bama’s family, and experience the celebrations firsthand. For me, the similarities between our home cultures have been brought into sharp focus – I now realise that this festival is a lot like Chinese New Year. Read more
Just before 5:30pm, we find ourselves in the middle of a restaurant packed with patrons. At the next table, more than 15 university students load up on white rice and a rich assortment of main dishes. Some stir their ice-cold drinks in anticipation of the coming feast. It is the perfect representation of a scene that my father described from the days before I was born, when my parents lived in Kuala Lumpur. Read more
The 1930s were an age of unrestrained decadence. Radio had displaced newspapers as the most popular form of mass media; cinemas from Shanghai to Sao Paulo screened the latest in Hollywood films; ballrooms on both sides of the Atlantic echoed to the sounds of jazz and big band swing music; and the world seemed blissfully ignorant of the storm clouds brewing on the horizon.
Yogyakarta holds a small handful of short but vivid memories. The immense scale of Borobudur, its stupas carved in black andesite, rising from an emerald green countryside blanketed with palms; rows of hand-carved furniture lining a dusty street, puttering vehicles kicking up clouds of ochre; and standing wide-eyed at the foot of Merapi, beside a large sign warning of the danger ahead. This beautiful but lethal giant, at once life-giving and brutally destructive, was the first volcano I had ever seen. Read more
“Indonesia huh? You going there to eat?”
The hairdresser chuckled at the thought.
I smiled and mentioned Mount Bromo, but not before admitting my excitement about the spicy cuisine. Nasi – rice – was perhaps the first word I learned in Bahasa Indonesia. This was followed by ayam and sapi – chicken and beef, cumi (squid), udang (shrimp), timun (cucumber) and eventually, terong (eggplant). Months ahead of the trip, Bama had told me about sambal, traditional chilli sauce with an untold number of variations. Read more