Friday, 15 June 2007

Indonesia, days 5 & 6: back to Semarang

We promised the folks at the temple the previous night to go back to Semarang on day 5, so after a quick "shower" (see conditions on the right) we took a bus over there. Indonesian long distance buses have many interesting features. One is that there are no bus stops, they stop anywhere if you just wave to them. They're also relatively comfortable, meaning the seats are ok and there are enough of them... there's no air-conditioning of course, if you want that, go for the tourist buses. But the doors are open all the time so there's plenty of air. There are also folks that come in and sing and play a guitar or something. Give a coin to them, 100 rupiah or something. If you give nothing, they might punch you. If they sing well, you might give more. The other kind of people that comes to the buses are the salesmen, and they don't punch you even if you buy nothing. Some sell newspapers (in Indonesian), others sell food. That was the most pleasant surprise of the buses. There are generally 5 things sold and 4 of them are vegan! One is aram-aram, it's sticky rice, coconut milk and tofu wrapped in a coconut leaf and shaped like a big candy. The second is tahu goreng, fried tofu, which comes with a few little and very hot green chilies. The third is tempeh which they bring in dry bars. I forget the name of the fourth, but it's these very sweet biscuits that look almost chocolaty but it's actually just palm sugar. According to locals, even if it says it has honey, it's actually palm sugar since that's cheaper. I have no recollection of what the fifth non-vegan item was. Surprisingly enough they don't sell anything to drink, so bring your water bottle along.

In Semarang we took a becak (pedicab) over to the city school where the kids were at the time. And sang songs all the way there. At the school I ended up being put to "teach" a class, introducing myself in Indonesian and then trying to get a conversation going in English. And singing and listening to them sing. At the cafeteria I was also pushed to teaching tango again, but the girls were too shy. Don't know what's with Indonesian girls, but I ended up teaching mostly boys all the time there. I guess they'll get the girls hooked later then, hopefully. Afterwards we took a ride back to the city, had a nice chat with the Chinese teacher of my friend... Well, nice despite the fact that he started making silly claims that questioned that veganism would be the one and only Right Path to take, so I had to extend my Chinese to explain to him where he was making a mistake. :-)

The day passed with surprisingly few pictures, we took an air-conditioned Joglosemar tourist bus back in the evening and that was about all there was to the day. It seems practically impossible to reserve Joglosemar tickets in advance as they never pick up the phone, at least not in Semarang. These fancier buses don't have people coming to play and sing, or anyone selling food. They are, however, considered safer, especially in the evening. A girl in the bus told us a tale of when she had taken an Apollo bus earlier and as she was about to get off, someone had cut her mobile phone out of her pocket and pushed her off the bus! Reporting the crime to the police or the bus company didn't result in anything, not even an apology. In any case, back at Ampel we admired the Moon which for some reason had a huge light circle surrounding it. I tried to take a camera phone picture but as you can see, the circle is not there. However I swear to you we both saw it as clearly as we saw the moon itself. Strange phenomenon.

Day 6 was Vesak day or the "birthday of Buddha" and the previous day I ended up promising one kid we'd be there in their celebrations of the temple, so despite non-willingness to head to Semarang AGAIN, that had to be done since I always keep my promises. A tourist bus took us to the city and a taxi to the crowded temple. We made small donations to the temple in the queue that was formed outside and poured water on top of a Buddha statue, I don't really know what was the significance but that's what everyone did. Later there was free food in the basement of the temple, at least mostly vegan, I didn't pick any of one dish as I wasn't sure. Then one of the kids asked me to follow her upstairs, as to this day I'm unsure why as she soon seemed rather lost and didn't indicate anything of where to go anymore. She didn't speak enough English to explain and my Indonesian wasn't good enough either. Doesn't matter though, I ended up running into two guys, one of whom spoke pretty good Chinese and the other decent English, and soon they wanted to accompany me to upstairs. I also met the mother of the Chinese speaker, she spoke even better Chinese, so we got along well. Quite soon these guys were asking if they could show me around town. I agreed as my friend would be busy chatting with the kids in a language I wouldn't understand anyway, and off we went in their car, with another guy and the girlfriend of the Chinese speaker joining us. Later it turned out this girlfriend was among the crew of the ship that sailed to Africa, even if only as far as the Seychelles, as mentioned in the bit about Borobudur. She had travelled quite a bit otherwise too, and spoke good English.

First they took me to see the house with 1000 doors. This house was built during the Dutch rule of Indonesia, it had a prison in the basement, office space in the ground floor, and a dance hall and a gym upstairs. Plenty of trap doors too, leading nowhere, to fool the prisoners. Now the building hasn't been used in a long time, the daughter of the previous president Suharto wanted to turn it into a hotel, but as he went out of power the plans vanished too. It's claimed the house is haunted, and unfortunately even my tour guides were too scared to go down to the prison level. There were nice scenes from upstairs and plenty of bats had made their home in the water tower.

From there, we went on to see the Central Mosque of Semarang, which is impressively large and fancy, and complete with "umbrellas" built with German technology that can be opened up if there are special events. There's also a tower to watch from. Like any silly foreigner, I was wearing shorts and that's not allowed. They would've borrowed me a robe at the mosque, but we didn't bother to buy tickets and go see it but just watched it from the outside and went to the tower that has been built in conjunction to the mosque. The tower is only 99 metres high but provides scenes across the city. The stones in front of the mosque were oven hot in the afternoon sun, and of course you have to take the shoes off... plenty of fried feet on offer there!

Afterwards they had to go and I was due to meet my friend back at the temple also, so plenty of thanks to these nice people, it was a lot of fun to tour the city for a bit and have a nice chat! Back at the temple it turned out the regular driver would be busy the next day so we had to cancel the previous plans and decided to stay overnight in Semarang as it was easier to catch a bus to Yogyakarta from there. We fist headed to my friend's aunt's where she would stay and would later find me a cheap hotel. We also took her young cousin to dinner in a vegetarian restaurant in Chinatown. This place was extremely welcoming to a Chinese speaking Finn who lives in Beijing, I have never noticed how warmly the overseas Chinese community might welcome a stranger before! They were all smiles and introducing me to a kid who wanted to study in Beijing and so on and so forth. Lovely people. Pretty good food too.

Later we went off to find me the cheapest hotel room in town. One was found in Chinatown for around 60,000 rupiah, I believe, that makes roughly 6 USD. A very basic thing but there were beds (two of them actually), air conditioning, a private squat toilet and the Indonesian style of "showering", a water tap... and actually the water (cold of course) actually ran. So, fully decent, and worth the price. On the way back we ran into a bunch of folks practising the dragon dance for a festival which should take place pretty much as I write this, but sadly none of them spoke decent Chinese. I posed for a few pictures with the dragons but none turned out any good as the camera was out of batteries as always and wouldn't use the flash. We had a nice ice dessert in a place called Es Snowhite, and then I escorted the girls to the aunt's and headed over to the hotel. I'm not your typical Finn when it comes to alcohol consumption but after the heat of the day and the little sleep and no showers I had got throughout the trip I really felt like having a cold beer. It was Friday night and I was in the centre of a big city, so I didn't think that'd be a big problem despite it being a Muslim country. I was wrong. I walked for an hour across the central area, saw people singing karaoke and playing games at a night market, but no sign of anything stronger than fruit juice anywhere. Eventually I decided I was just tiring myself more and walked back to the hotel and settled for water. I did later see beer sold in a supermarket in Yogyakarta, so clearly it exists and isn't even illegal, but don't go to Indonesia for the bar scene.

Also on day 6 there was a cute kitty playing with my bag while I was eating, I forgot the pics earlier:


Riesa said...

Hmm, looks like there is only one thing nice-- No strong alcohol culture!

Here I can smell lots of people (men and women) like PURE alcohol when they pass by on the street... And I met several really drunk people-- Yuck!

Travegan said...

Oh, that's not the only nice thing, there's also plenty of good vegan food, gorgeous nature, mostly nice people, super fun languages, tons of great tropical fruits, a warm (or downright hot) climate, and so on and so forth. :-)

That's true... did you know alcohol is the #1 killer in Finland? Just passed heart disease in the statistics recently. :S

Riesa said...

Aaaaaaaaaa, I want kissa!