Malang: "Birds, Boy Scouts, Ballet"


East Java

May 22, 2005


Dear Family and Friends,

Lucas and I decided on a three-day expedition eastward to Mt. Bromo, and back. (Talk about inefficiency. Mt Bromo is halfway to Bali!)

I thought I was going to East Java to see a volcano at sunrise. I did. And more:

Sangiran. "An important archaeological excavation site, where some of the best examples of fossil skulls of prehistoric "Java Man" (Pithecanthropus erectus) were unearthed by a Dutch professor, Eugene Dubois, in 1936. The little museum adjoining the site has an exhibit of fossils including huge mammoth bones and tusks. I chatted with a few school kids on a class trip, but I avoided the souvenir stands selling "fossils."

Tea. Lucas and I took a break at a tea plantation. I hopped aboard a trolley for a tour. Tea as far as the eye can see. Also lovely gardens and a hearty lunch. I've not yet been to China or Sri Lanka, but here on Java, there's an awful lot of tea...and coffee.

(Have you noticed that I have resisted the temptation to write that I'm having a cup a Java on Java?)

Malang. Malang was the best surprise. A large city with a "hill station" feel, old Dutch architecture, large squares and parks and markets. Lucas turned me loose for a Sunday stroll around town. My destination was the Taman Rekreasi Sanaputra, Malang's cultural and recreational park.

I first stopped at one or two Christian churches. "SRO." The congregants were overflowing out the doors and into the street.

Then the central park. Couples and families out for a Sunday walk. Loud banging attracted me to a man and his little monkey, performing for the curious and shy children. The monkey, dressed in a military uniform, paraded around with rifle on shoulder, then stopped dead still, and snapped a smart salute.

I continued to follow my street map to the recreation park, but first, the Pasar Songgol - the bird market.

Now, Asians love birds. Most private homes have a cage or two out front. Indonesians really love birds. Every city I have visited has a large market with dozens of cages holding colorful songbirds of red and black and yellow and white, blue and green, large and small.

Malang is no different. Except the bird market is perched atop a steel bridge above a stream far below. Crowds flock to the stalls. Children stare. I spied one man, overturned bird in his hands, gently blowing on the feathers. Can you guess why?

At the end of the bridge I wandered into a large building. A Boy Scout troop was assembling. I snapped my own three-finger internationally-recognized salute and they happily invited me into the meeting hall. We chatted for a while, I met some of the senior leaders, and we posed for photos under a large framed portrait of Lord Baden Powell. As I departed, one Scout presented me with a "Java-Timor" - East Java Council - shoulder patch. Once again, Java has propelled me back through the decades, this time to my own happy and adventurous years in the Boy Scouts.

I finally arrived at the recreation park. What a treat! Children everywhere. In the swimming pool, on swings, slides and see-saws. Climbing on stone rhinoceroses, giraffes, and replicas of Hindu temples. A colorful sight, especially the girls in their long headscarves of red and white and green and blue and yellow.

And dancing! First a display of "kuda lumping" - horse trance dancing. Several men, dressed in yellow costumes ride plaited cane horses until they fall into a trance. This event attracted a large crowd to the outdoor theater.

The final surprise was a dance class. Dozens of little girls in orange and black outfits were mpracticing traditional Javanese ballet. Wow! Did they ever have moves! A delightful and impressive display of complex and intricate hand and head and shoulder and leg movement. And were they ever serious! Serious Moms looking on, too.

What a wonderful morning!

On our way out of town we rode down "millionaire's row." A wide palm tree boulevard lined with exquisite old homes left over from Dutch colonial times and now renovated and maintained by their descendants or others able to afford them.

Next stop...Probolinggo, the approach to Gunung Bromo & Bromo - Tengger - Semeru National Park - Mt Bromo for short, and "one of the most impressive sights in Indonesia." I think I saved the best for last.

See you there.


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