Sunday, February 16, 2014

Destination: Semarang (Indonesia)

MAN 1, with Emily and her students in Semarang
The remainder of my Java weekend was spent in Semarang, the capital of central Java where Emily lives and teaches English. We spent Sunday touring the town and on Monday morning I made a guest appearance in Miss Emily's first class.

Semarang is the fifth largest city in Indonesia, and is home to more than 1.5 million people. It was a prominent Dutch port for many years, as its position on the northern coast of Java makes it a strategic shipping location. Much of the local architecture still shows its Dutch roots, particularly in the Old Town.

We rolled out of bed around 6:30AM on Sunday to head downtown for Car-Free Day. This weekly event was held at Simpang Lima, a large central area formed by the convergence of five roads. As the name indicates, no cars were permitted in the area, as hundreds of people took to the streets on bicycles, roller blades, or various scooters. We opted for the low riding tricycles.


Please take note of those racing flames
On this particular Sunday, the city was host to a military appreciation celebration, so lots of military personnel were milling about. We grabbed a suprisingly delicious breakfast of bubur kacang hijau, or green pea porridge. After rolling around for a while, we headed off to explore the rest of Semarang.

Gereja Blenduk



First up was Gereja Blenduk, the oldest church in Central Java (founded in 1753). The name Blenduk is derived from a Javanese word for an upside-down bowl, a reference to its prominent dome. We walked in to the Protestant church, just hoping to poke around and see the architecture, but ended up staying for the Sunday service. 

Still in the Christmas spirit

Kota Lama (The Old Town)



After church, we grabbed a sumptuous lunch of gurami asem manis, a local fish dish. We then continued our tour, often wading through flooded streets. Large rainfall had hit the week before, but the drainage had not been effective in certain parts of town. 

Emily mentioned a new cafe spot that she had recently found, so we sloshed through some more puddles before finding the place. The cafe snob in me had to try out the local brews, as I've never tried Dutch-based coffee before. Noeri's cafe earned a big thumbs up in my book, as the drinks matched the vintage vibe of the place.

Made it to the cafe, but not without dropping my socks in the water
Noeri's Cafe, a delightful hole-in-the-wall coffee spot
We then proceeded to get $3 massages at another hidden gem, "Fragrance" (or something like that). Soon after, I loaded up on souvenirs at a mall, snagging a couple batik ties along the way. Batik is a special cloth that is manually dyed with a special wax-based technique. UNESCO actually designated Indonesian batik as a "Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity" a few years ago. After shopping, we proceeded to check out one of the most recognizable buildings in Semarang.

Gedung Lawang Sewu


Gudung Lawang Sewu is perhaps the most famous landmark in the city of Semarang. Its name in Javanese means "One Thousand Doors." Built in 1907, it has witnessed many significant events that shaped the city over the past century. In its early years, it served as headquarters of the major railroad company of the Dutch East Indies (aka, Indonesia before they gained independence from the Netherlands). During World War II, the invading Japanese seized the building and used the prison as a brutal prison. Today, ghost stories abound, as some think the Lawang Sewu has been haunted for many years. 
Just a few of the "Thousand Doors"
These were used to hold 5 prisoners in each hole
Thus ended my Sunday tour of Semarang, though not before Emily sliced up some delicious red dragonfruit. I now owe her some of the white variety, which is more common than its counterpart in Singapore.

My trip ended on Monday with a visit to MAN 1, the madrassa where Emily taught English to a number of different classes. I joined her for her first period class, where we covered Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and some shape vocabulary. The kids were lots of fun, as we played some games, threw an American football around, and ended with class pictures. I felt like a celebrity for the day, especially since they approved of my new batik. 

Central Java is a fascinating place to tour about, with friendly faces and historical landmarks all around. Special thanks to Fulbrighters Emily and Amelia for showing me around town. Singapore awaits your visit in mid-May.


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