Friday, February 24, 2012

A Day in Bandung

We visited Bandung in 1974 and stayed at a hotel near the railroad station. On the streets around the station families were camped out. Early in the morning we saw them stirring, getting ready to start their day.  Now nearly 40 years later we visited a different Bandung. It has a well developed urban center, albeit one with unbelievable traffic (similar to India).  We have no idea if our 1974 hotel still exists or exactly where is it (or was). People regularly fly in from Kuala Lumpur to shop. Poverty has not disappeared, but it is less overwhelming and probably more hidden.

We planned this trip as soon as our Penang friend Lina contacted the Institute of Technology Bandung (ITB) about spending her sabbatical there. ITB is one of Indonesia's most prestigious universities. (1n 1974 I met an ITB faculty member who taught
Lina (from our trip to Mt Tangkuban)
Here we are dressed inappropriately for a cold day
plumbing  -  being young and ignorant I did not appreciate the importance of plumbing in national development. This trip has reminded me how much we take for granted research that yields a livable environment and a safe food supply. 

 ITB was like a typical university campus.  We could hear both a symphonic band and a gamelon orchestra practicing, while watching students play basketball.

An old (1920) landmark building on ITB campus
Note how quiet the area is.

A few meters away - Lina reports this is a frequently photographed scene

Our plan was to travel with Lina and introduce her to Central Java. Doug and I have been to Bandung several times.  Mt. Tangkuban Perahu (overturned boat), which Lina hasn't visited seemed worth revisiting. It is a volcano 28 kilometers outside the city. The drive to the volcano was pleasant. We went by attractive guest houses and small towns. On our previous trips Doug and I had booked with maniac drivers; we had held our breathe and hoped for the best. With the taxi driver on this trip we had no worries and could enjoy the scenery.

At the entrance to the volcano the gaggle of hawkers of previous years who followed and pestered were gone (and not missed). In their place were rows of shops and a few roving vendors.

                                                  The view into the crater

                                                Just a small portion of the rows of vendors

                                                    Yummy snacks, but oh the oil

On our way down we stopped at a fruit market for lunch and bought a box of seriously sweet raspberries that we devoured on the train the next day. Our next stop was Saung Angklung Udjo in Bandung. It is school and cultural center devoted to preserving the Sudanese culture (including music, dance, puppetry). Public performances are held at 3:30 daily. The hour long performance was entertaining and the hour went by quickly. In one segment the audience members were given angklungs (a bamboo instrument) and taught how to play. Later members of the school invited audience members to dance - Doug and I were chosen (I think that they targeted Westerners). Lina's traditional dress seemed to ward off invitations to dance.
                              Celebrating the circumcision (of the boy on the right in a chair)
                                                          Playing the angklung

                                   The company/students take a curtain call

Afterwards Lina took the taxi back to the guest house and we went off to Cihanpelas Walk, the mall near our hotel. It had a familiar village/mall feel to it. Neither of us are shoppers so we limited ourselves to eating dinner and finding snacks for our train trip to Yogjarkarta.

On travel logistics: We stayed at the Ameris Hotel, a two star member of the Santika Hotel family (We use Agoda and for hotels in Asia).  It was a clean, safe typical two star hotel (breakfast included) with great location for shoppers. The staff, who spoke reasonably good English, arranged a taxi for an all day (12 hour) tour.  Lina was the master of all travel by angkut.  She directed us to angkut fixed routes for our in-town travel. Angkuts are mini vans that zip around the city. They are cheap, but Lina wasn't exactly sure of the fare (if you offered far too much you will get change, but a little too much probably no change).  Doug found getting his 6 foot plus frame in and out required some acrobatic skills. Sitting next to the driver was better. (As a side note when we returned to KL it seemed as if Malaysia was suddenly populated by tall people.) Blue Bird cabs were in Bandung as well as in Jakarta and Bogor. The company and its drivers are highly recommended. (Drivers who drive carefully and charge a fair fare should not be taken for granted.)

We booked a train to Yogjakarta at the train station. We started at passenger services and after making arrangements went to ticket window to purchase the tickets. Doug and I qualified for a senior discount, but need needed copies of our passport identification pages. We booked on the 8 am train to Solo (the local); we should have taken the 7:00 am (the express) to Surabaya - much faster and not prone to being late.  In contrast, 40 years ago when we made the same trip the overbooked train suddenly had seats when we spoke to the stationmaster and provided a small gratuity. Things are smoother these days.  (However a newspaper article upon our return to Malaysia said the Indonesian rail system was experimenting with draconian ways to keep people from riding on the top of the rail cars:  concrete balls hanging from steel structures over the tracks, and the humane alternative of wet mops soaked in urine and feces.)

I will jump ahead to describe our exit from Indonesia via the Bandung International Airport.  This airport is located in the middle of the city, actually sharing the airport with the Indonesian Air Force.  A hint for choosing your hotel....make sure it is close to the airport, and include in your price calculation the benefit of free airport transit when departing.  Check in was slow and the automatic check in machines were not working (network problems).  In Indonesia do not depend upon hotel business centers to have working printers.  I did my web check in before I left home in Malaysia.  I had to purchase the airport tax stamp in a separate area which was required at the emigration counter.  The line for emigration at Bandung was slower than immigration in Jakarta.  Indonesian emigration officials are very careful to make sure you don't overstay your visa....the fine can be substantial.  And your passport, boarding pass, and airport fee stamp are checked yet again before boarding the aircraft.  While waiting for our aircraft to arrive, we watch Immigration/Customs officers running in formation up and down the taxiway.  Similar to when we saw Boeing workers being led in exercises while constructing Boeing 777 aircraft in Everett, Washington. 

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