Big Bold Bandung

I had apprehensions on the plane ride from Bali to Bandung as CS friend, Jimmy, had texted me that it was raining cats and dogs there.  Jeannette, Rhoda, and Julie had already left for Jakarta at 6:15pm to catch their 12:30am flight to Manila.  Fortunately, since no one else was at the Air Asia counter the lovely lady behind it allowed me to check-in even if it was a full four hours before my flight.  The few steel benches at the departure area were all occupied and the place was slowly filling up with people.  The boarding lounge at the second floor was large but filled with people too.  At least there were seats available and I was  able to while away at least 2 hours with the company of the girls.  Flights to Surabaya were all getting delayed due to weather conditions so I was really expecting a turbulent flight.  The plane was half-full and the one hour and forty-minutes flight was unexpectedly smooth and anxiety-free.  It was raining when we landed but not really hard.  I was amused at the conveyor belt for the luggage as it didn’t go around.  It just ended abruptly so any uncollected luggage simply fell on the floor on a heap.   Getting out of the airport was a breeze.  I paid RM 40 at the taxi stand for the fare to Jl Cihampelas, looked for  the taxi matching the number on my coupon and got on.

With Rhoda heading back home instead of joining me, I  could afford to stay in a less-comfortable (read: cheaper) place.  The Jati 3 Bungalows in Bali were a real luxury (at least to my standards) and was way beyond my budget. Bandung would have to be a price slash.  However,  I didn’t expect Guest House Pos Cihampelas which I got from LP to be THAT less comfortable.  I had called them in advanced for a single economy but they had none available so I settled for the RM 133,000/night single standard.  It was nothing more than a shoebox of a room with an ensuite shower and toilet, a small cabinet, and a wooden red box that functioned as a table.  I thought I heard somewhere during the conversation that there was an a/c.  Tough luck!  There wasn’t even a fan!  Standing on the wooden box, I pushed open the big windows near the ceiling to let some air in.  Thank god it was raining!   It was the cheapest room available and a step-up would mean a doubling in price so I had to make do.  I had already spent more than my budget and if I want to buy some instruments here, I would have to scrimp a bit.  Still, I cannot imagine how the economy room would be like.

The guesthouse had nice common areas though with a little garden at a small courtyard at the back where I assume the more expensive rooms were located.   The people at the front desk were nice especially the chatty bespectacled Yanti.  It was a little difficult to catch-up with her though as she spoke a little too fast.  The rest of the staff didn’t speak English much so I got to really practice my Bahasa-Indonesia.  While at the front desk arranging my booking, I young woman came in and talked to one of the staff in perfect Bahasa-Indonesia.  When I left, I asked the guy where she came from and how she could speak so well.  We looked at the ID she left and saw she was a Polish student at the University of Mataram.

On the rim of  craters.  Jimmy, my friend from CouchSurfing took me to Tangkuban Perahu, Bandung’s star attraction.  We set out at 6am as it was a Friday and  he warned that traffic would be really bad as hordes of people from nearby Jakarta would be coming over to spend the weekend at Bandung’s cool climes.    We had a quick breakfast at a roadside stall then headed higher up the hills.

Perahu is really nice but I liked the smaller crater of Kawah Domas more than Kawah Ratu as you could walk on the crater and there were also nobody else there but us.  The main crater was really huge  but I guess they don’t allow people to go down for safety reasons.  Better was the very atmospheric Kawah Puti, which I visited the next day on the back of a motorbike  I hired from the guesthouse.  The smell of sulfur was really strong and I was told by Afriel, the  motorbike driver, that Kawah Puti acted-up following Merapi’s explosion Oct 2010.  At times when the crater acts up, authorities close access to it as the sulfur is strong enough to kill even birds that fly over it.

Shopping and eating at Jeans Street.  They also sell other stuff here but jeans seem to really be the number one commodity here.  Too bad it was raining as window shopping on this busy street would have been fun as the shops try to outdo each other in having the biggest superhero or monster figure on top of their awnings or by the door.   Traffic is a little tight as hordes of people pack the stores and the street stalls.

I bought a small caramel-mocha roll from a street stall selling cakes (!) and brownies.  For its price and provenance, it was passable.  At least it tasted like cake and not cardboard.

Dinner was  at a rumah makan where I had  Bandung siomay, some sweetish meat, and a plate of fried rice. The siomay  was bigger than the usual dumpling and didn’t taste so Chinese.  Maybe it was the extenders.

I picked-up a couple of  “Bandung” t-shirts and some packaged snacks.  It was fun browsing around one of the large stores selling all sorts of snacks like an Indonesian Aji Ichi-ban.  There were all sorts of krupuk , crunchy rice cakes, coffees and teas in attractive packages, and other unidentifiable goodies.  At a smaller store, I chanced on a layer cake which at RM 45,000 was cheaper than the RM 90,000 we got at Bali.  It wasn’t as delicious though as it was dry and had some sort of spice in it.

Angklung and instruments shopping.  After the artsy atmosphere of Ubud Bandung came as a bit of a shock with its traffic and modern buildings.  Underneath the imposing Dutch colonial buildings, fancy cars, and beautiful mansions, traditional Sundanese culture is alive and well with the angklung taking center stage.

The leafy and spacious grounds of Saung Angklung founded by master angklung musician and instrument-maker Pak Udjo is home to the rattling sound of this bamboo instrument.  It houses a large shop, a factory, an auditorium, and a school where kids learn to play it. The entrance fee included a free drink and a mini-angklung pendant which also serves as the ticket.  Cool.

Most interesting was watching the instruments being created by hand from the whittling of young bamboo tubes to create a “tongue” to the tying of the frames that held the tubes that rattled when you shook them. A room housed rows and rows of metal racks with angklung neatly packed together.  I never imagined demand for the instrument would be that high.  Saung Angklung supposedly produces the best angklung.

The show was really for the tourist crowd and even came complete with two pretty hosts, the kind you would expect in a theater-restaurant with a buffet and a show after.  It was really good and the level of playing the instruments were of really high quality.  The orchestra which had just come from an engagement in London and led by one of the sons of Pak Udjo played excellently.  It was surprising to listen to pop tunes such as  “If We Hold On Together” and even Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” which brought the house down.  The show ended with everyone given an angklung each and guided through Kodaly-like hand signals, we all played together.  Really good fun.

Afriel took me to a some small music instrument shops strung along a main road.  While everyone was heading to do their shopping at Pasar Baru, Jeans St. or at one of the numerous outlet stores, I was on a hot shop crammed with angklung, wayang kulit, wayang golek, drums, zithers, and all other sort of musical instruments, some of which I couldn’t afford such as the rebab (RM 800,000), a zither made of a special kind of wood (RM 800,000) a pair of a different kind of zithers (RM 1.2m) and a trumpet (RM 750,000).  Ahhh. If only I had the money, I would buy them all and stay in Bandung for a couple of months and learn how to play them and walk around volcanic craters in between.

Bandung is a modern city but doesn’t have the raw feel of Jakarta.  Maybe because it sits on a bowl fringed with mountains and hills and you need to just look up and see some green.  When I was there, the weather was also very cool and I hardly sweated.  The traffic is crazy on the weekend I was there was crazy though and Jimmy said it as the reason why the locals hardly venture out during those days.  Bandung is a better place than Jakarta IMO.

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