I left Yogyakarta, alive and well, on the 23:59 Ekekutif Express train which takes 8 hours to complete the journey to Malang. For most of it I was sound asleep in my reclining chair; bags intertwined around my legs to prevent unscrupulous characters from attempting a snatch and run.
I woke to find my legs and bags still bound together, sharing the ash from Merapi I had been unable to leave behind in the city of its birth.
Fingers tapped me on the shoulder. It was the carriage steward…”Malang, next stop”. I had gotten in a good eight hours sleep in a chair, something I have not been able to achieve in a while.
I wouldn’t say I felt refreshed but I was ready to explore Malang.
All I needed was a room, a shower, something to eat and I’d be on my way. I realised immediately that Malang is a small town. When I took a taxi from the station to my hotel I had barely closed the door when the driver advised me we had arrived.
Ok, that’s a little exaggerated but you get the point.
I devised a walking tour to take in the city sights and then added some stops more personal to me and my tastes. The first added item was ice cream at the original Toko Oen.
This one was established in 1930, as opposed to Semarang’s which began two years later. The shop was full and the waiters, all dressed in white suits, were busy and scurrying about. Cassatta, Neapolitan, banana splits, shakes, juices, pastries, cakes, and cookies all flying around the room as people consumed a sweet something for morning tea.
The wicker furniture made you take on a relaxed state of mind, the black and white photos on the walls reminders of yesteryear Malang, and the menu. Just like in Semarang you could go from French Silk to Ox Tongue in the flick of a page.
My intention was to try something new so I started out with “Es Campur” and followed that up with a “Calypso Fantasy”. Toko Oen claims that the ice cream is made the same as it was back in 1930.
All I know is that it was good; very good.
My waiter was a smiley chap. Short and most likely an ice cream lover himself. He whipped around the restaurant in a mad rush serving, cleaning, and stopping for photos with groups of tourists who had enjoyed his service.
He brought my order and noticing I had a camera, gave me an extra big smile and stood there ice cream in hand. He looked a little confused when I didn’t take his picture.
I couldn’t; it kind of felt a little cheesy and besides that I had a craving. Anyone who knows me knows that a craving like this is more a force of nature and cannot, under any circumstance, be slowed down!
He shrugged it off like a man with too much to do than worry about my loss and went about his business. I wanted an action shot anyway so when the time was right I got him doing what he clearly liked to do…deliver delicious!
Malang is a town in the hills but even though famous for its temperate climate it was still hot enough to reduce my two bowls of ice cream fantasy to liquid reality within seconds.
My city walking tour took me from Toko Oen down to the Alun-Alun where, being Sunday, the place was packed with picnicking families in search of a lazy day. The square was also over-populated with groups of musicians and singers vying for attention.
This cacophony of music brought me to an immediate standstill as my brain slowly shutdown. It couldn’t take it and I had to get out!
Finding an exit through the fence became vitally important. They do seem to love fencing stuff in around here; squares, fountains, trees, monuments.
Not quite sure what that’s all about.
My next stop was Jalan Ijen, otherwise known as millionaires row. A colonial boulevard of the most spectacular. Both sides are lined by dual rows of palms, one row on each side of the sidewalk. Reaching 50 feet tall and each one planted exactly the same distance from the last. In the center of the boulevard is a stream of islands all manicured with exotic flower beds, tailored grass, and six pronged copper and brass street lamps.
The houses on Jalan Ijen fall within two categories. New money and colonial.
Luckily the new money category does not overrun the colonial. In fact there seems to be a real trend to restore the old Dutch villas to their previous charm. Thus making the boulevard, as well as the roads surrounding it, a landmark in itself.
Some of the old villas remain untouched and others are in varying stages of restoration. As I wandered up and down many of the side streets I realized that the city of Malang has taken its colonial past and found the silver lining.
Morning brought with it an inspired feeling. Today was a day to hike!
I headed for the mountains surrounding Malang in the area of Batu. This region is well known for its plantations of coffee, strawberries, grapes, and apples.
The grapes are the size of apples; huge perfectly shaped globes.
The air was clean, flowers were blooming, hills alive, and I even passed by the Edelweiss restaurant…I am not kidding!
The two mountains in view are both cone-shaped. Even though they were absent a snow-cap they were cloud tipped and proud. Walking through the area was a nice respite from car or bike dodging that usually comes part in parcel with any city walk.
The country side was dotted with apple sellers all adhering to the same window dressing approach. All apples were placed in piles resembling pyramids. Then, hanging from the corrugated roof so that it almost touched the top apple, were fish-net bags full of more apples.
The bags were all attached to a bright green rope. Each pile was the same size and the base of each touched the one next to it. All very uniformed and when you line up dozens of vendors doing the same thing, using the same rope of green, it looks almost too good to spoil by purchasing even one apple…so you don’t and the picture of beautiful fruit remains in balance.
I spent several hours hiking around, just me and the apples…oh and the animals. I almost neglected to tell you about the plantation that had a cement life-sized menagerie.
There was a lion, a tiger, a seagull (even though I suspect it was supposed to be an eagle), and of course a brontosaurus…life size!
Amazing what you will find in the wilds of Java.
I certainly had a great time in Malang. It’s a city that captivates by its apparent ease of life. An ease that has benefited the people, the trees, the air, and the pace at which everything operates.
I mention the trees because around here they are huge. The canopy spread is unlike anything I’ve seen in Java; magnificent. They line the streets, the Tugu, the Alun-Alun, and the train station. They add an air of sophistication to the city, they add grace. They add a window into life outside other bustling cities on Java.
One of my favorite books of all time is Burmese Days by George Orwell.
It would be easy to imagine this book being written here in Malang. Not for any negative reasons but simply because not a lot of imagination is required here to take yourself back to tempo doeloe; to a lost time.
The experience is right in front of you, everywhere you turn. From the grand tree-lined boulevards and side streets, to the houses. But more importantly it’s the people. They are proud of their heritage and especially their independence.
Unlike in other places Malang citizenry does not shy away from their colonial heritage. It is part of them, they of it. Nothing left to do except move into a new century and preserve the past along with all the good and bad that may be associated with it.
Maybe it has something to do with the fact that it is a center of learning. A university town where new ways of thinking permeate the old. Students take what they are taught and question it until it rings true for them. Not to say that facts are disputed but perspectives are definitely tested.
I leave Malang after seven days with a heavy heart; anticipating my return.
For photos of Indonesia click here.