In terms of chaos it is the smaller sibling of Jakarta by far. The streets are busy but they are not constantly clogged. It is a mountain town and used to be known as the “Paris of the East”. Its boulevards and elegant buildings attest to this moniker and there is pride; a proudness for a once great city now firmly rooted in the legacy of its former glory.
The afternoon monsoon rains came thundering down a little earlier than expected and instantly the sidewalks and gutters flow in torrents. Umbrellas explode open above the heads of walkers while the umbrella-less scatter and seek shelter in shops. For me, I took refuge under the eve of a building along with some street vendors and…beauty contestants.
Yes, beauty contestants!
All dressed in long gowns and wearing sashes depicting their individual regions.
The rains continued and as I waited it out hunger set in. No great surprise really, since I was not only surrounded by competitive beauty couples but also by woks ready and willing to throw down some rice or noodles.
I had a word to the closest guy and after a bit of hesitancy on his part he got to work preparing a mid-rain meal. A little bit of this, a little bit of that, some black sauce, some of the red sauce, throw a fork in it and hand me the bowl. I began eating my concoction and since the rains had eased up the paparazzi came out in force.
I know this could sound like I am making it up but it happened. I swear!
As I stuck my fork in to begin eating I was gently moved to one side. I was blocking the light. “What light”? We were covered by a layer of dark and ominous thunder clouds.
Then another photographer, less forward than his colleague, simply gave me the stink eye and made it audible. Through the grunts and groans of his dissatisfaction it was clear my presence was an annoyance. The models seemed not to even notice and went about smiling and posing oblivious to me, my nasi goreng concoction, or the wok totting vendors.
When the rains stopped I left my shelter and headed down Jalan Braga, the main street in the city center. There had to have been another 20 contestants lining Braga and a swarm of photographers angling for the best shot.
We were far from the days golden hour that photographers love but the shards of sunshine shattering the rolling grey clouds made for impressive lighting opportunities.
I had to know what was really going on. Some distance away was a guy who seemed to be directing the pageant, so in a mix of English and broken Bahasa I made my inquiry. Apparently the contest for “Miss (and Mr) Tourism” was underway. Contestants from all provinces of West Java were represented.
I had been lucky enough to get soaked to the skin by a mountain deluge, eat a mystery bowl of noodles, share the stage briefly with Indonesia’s face of tourism, all while simultaneously and inadvertently stealing what little light we had.
I love monsoons.
For photos of Indonesia click here.