Saturday March 23, 2013
By LOH FOON FONG
What do you do in Bandung – read a book? Perhaps there’s more to the place than meets the eye!
THE dreadful, uncivilised early hours of the day that I had to wade through to fly to Bandung was quickly usurped by an unexpectedly glorious Sunday morning on Jalan Dago.
While on the way from the airport to the Rumah Ebo guesthouse near Jalan Dago, the taxi driver said that the road was closed on Sundays to allow Bandung folks to hold activities for relaxation.
Once at the guesthouse at 9am, I left my bag at the reception and headed straight for Jalan Dago. Street bands occupied every other corner of the street, and ballads and rock music filled the fresh cool Bandung air. People were walking and cycling, and some were giving acrobatic performances and selling finger food and drinks.
The place was a hive of activities, and one young man even handed me a leaflet, asking if I would like to share stories about my profession to inspire children from poor economic backgrounds to dream of a better future. I almost said yes, but had to tell him that I was Malaysian and was on holiday.
Tired of taking photographs and walking the long stretch of road, I made a pit stop at Sam’s Strawberry Corner, where I ordered a bowl of mie baso (noodles with beef balls), a small glass of fresh strawberry smoothy and a local tapioca dessert wrapped in banana leaf. The meal, which came up to around RM12, was very satisfying – the noodles dense and beef balls tasty, the dessert with rich coconut milk heavenly, while the strawberries, locally produced, were generously blend-packed in the small 150ml glass.
After lunch, I hit the factory outlets along Jalan Dago. The Tintin reporter in me gravitated towards the sturdy Lacoste wear. A polo dress and three polo T-shirts surprisingly came up to only 540,900 rupiah (RM180), possibly one-third of the price back home.
Tired, I went back to the guesthouse and took a nap and showered, before going for dinner at Cabe Rawit around the corner. The Sundanese nasi timbel (30,000 rupiah/RM10), comprising rice wrapped in banana leaf, a local ulam with sambal, a piece of choice meat and soft tempe, were delicious.
And of course, in Bandung the other drink that one must have besides a strawberry blend is the alpukat (avacado) smoothies.
Resting in cool weather and reading Bob Buford’s HalfTime to begin a slow, year-long journey of contemplation about the next stage of life were top of my to-do-list this holiday while enjoying local cuisine as well as cultural and geological sites. In between activities, I happened to notice that the Bakmi Jowo DU67 on No.67 – on Jalan Dipatiukur, not too far from Rumah Ebo – was crowded with locals when I took a walk in the night alone (Bandung, I was told, is generally safe).
Seated in a nicely set-up warung-like shop, I ordered bakmi goreng (20,000 rupiah/RM6.40) and guava juice without sugar (8,000 rupiah/RM2.50). Although the bakmi goreng flavour was mild and decent, I could not help comparing it with our own char keow teow. The bakmi was no comparison.
On one of the four days, I hired a driver and a vehicle for 445,000 rupiah (RM142) to travel out, and Rumah Ebo supplied me with driver Pak Sukirman and a Toyoto Avanza for a 12-hour service. The vehicle could fit seven passengers and is economical for a family trip, and the cost is the same whether you are alone or in a group.
The journey to the active volcano, Gunung Tangkuban Perahu, 30km north of Bandung city, took an hour, and the rain in the early dawn made the weather even cooler, which was nice. The cost of hiring a driver and a van for a whole day may be affordable but the many other fees one has to pay along the way are generally a bit costlier than at most Malaysian destinations.
The entrance fee to Tangkuban Perahu is 65,000 rupiah (RM20) and it costs another 300,000 rupiah (RM100) just to hire a guide to walk you 1km down to Kawah Domas crater where you could dip in a mud pool.
Pak Sukirman had warned me to ignore the peddlers who were prone to overcharging. As I was not interested in buying any of the trinkets, it was not an issue.
Anyway, the name Tangkuban Perahu (meaning “flipped over boat” in Sundanese) was derived from a legend about a young man, Sangkuriang, who was banished by his mother. He wanted to marry her and so built an ark but was thwarted in his plans. In a fit of anger, he overturned the vessel.
It was around 17°C at Kawah Ratu crater, and it was windy and chilly. The site was beautiful and worth the trip out.
My next stop was the Kavling Stroberi farm. We drove past lovely rows of plant nurseries which Pak Sukirman said were supplied to Bandung folk. Entry to the strawberry farm was 16,000 rupiah (RM5) but at least it came with a cup of fresh strawberry smoothie.
It was nice picking strawberries on a weekday as the crowd had done their share during the weekend, but the downside was that there were fewer strawberries left to be picked. At the store, the strawberry dodol caught my attention, and I bought a few packs.
Lunch was a choice between Kampung Daun and Sapu Lidi restaurants. While the meals in the former are served in a lush forest in Kampung Daun, those in the latter are served amidst paddy fields. Both have lovely surroundings.
I chose Kampung Daun and ordered baso malang campur and alpukat. Although pricey, the meal was worthwhile as the dishes had such refined flavours and were the best I had sampled in Bandung.
Pak Sukirman then drove me to Jalan Setiabudi and Jalan Riau for a two-hour shopping trip. But the clothes there were no different from those sold in our shopping malls, and I preferred the shops in Jalan Dago. At 2.30pm, Pak Sukirman drove me to Saung Angklung Udjo, for an angklung (musical instrument made from bamboo) performance by children two years old and above.
He said it was rare for Malaysians to ask him for anything cultural as almost all wanted only to shop when in Bandung. The offerings for the day included angklung performances by groups of various ages, Wayang Golek, a procession for a boy’s circumcision and cultural dances.
We were also taught to play the angklung to the tunes of Burung Kakak Tua, Michael Jackson’s We Are the World, Teresa Teng’s The Moon Represents My Heart and Elvis Presley’s Can’t Help Falling in Love, among others.
The coordinated rattlings from individuals, each holding an angklung of a note and altogether completing a melody, was an exhilarating experience. If you have no knowledge for the angklung, you may just fall in love with the soothing tune and calming effect.
The session ended with senior students performing classical music with many sets of angklung in front of them. The emcees said they had performed in Washington DC before an audience of 3,000, and they would do it again before an audience of 5,000.
At the end of the show, we were invited to dance with the children. I politely declined a couple of them until an adorable little boy age around age three came straight at me and stretched out his hand.
How could anyone turn him down and dampen his spirit for life?
I took his hand and marched down to the performance floor. The little gentleman was as focused as a Buckingham palace guard in performing the folk dance, and took charge in initiating steps so I could follow. So serious was he that he did not answer me when asked for his name twice.
For dinner, Pak Sukirman introduced me to Karamba Bistro, and I had nasi liwet, more similar to Malay food than nasi timbel. Unfortunately, my stomach did not take too well to the sambal belacan there. The following day, I decided to return to Sam’s Strawberry Corner again for the pangsit babak and ceret and alpukat juice again.
Not understanding the locals’ explanation of the dishes, I took the chance to try them anyway.
The pangsit babak turned out to be noodles with finely flossed chicken that tasted like wantan noodles, and a bowl of soup filled with some animal stomach parts and two dumplings with fillings that tasted like beef.
They were delicious.
The day before, Pak Sukirman had pointed out that I could buy some local cakes from Kartikasari on Jalan Dago. Although not a fan of Indonesian layer cake, I bought a box home as a treat for friends.
I had chosen Bandung as a holiday destination for its cool weather and was pleasantly surprised by the nice food and people. I could not proceed with HalfTime after a few chapters, as it posed some very hard questions, such as what to write for one’s own epitaph and how one wanted to be remembered before one charts the next stage of life.
There are surely more questions to come, and Bandung is a place where I feel very comfortable in on this leg of my journey.