First impressions last and my impression of Bandung as a place nothing to rave about lasted for several years. My colleagues and students were always scurrying to Bandung every chance they got notwithstanding the snarled traffic to and fro much to my consternation. My first foray into Bandung was to a volcanic crater which wasn’t disappointing. The grey landscape was a dramatic departure from the usual green scenery I am used to, but which nonetheless piqued my interest. It was a stark flip to the presence of life; I now had an idea of how Demeter unleashed her vengeance on mankind for Hades’ concupiscence. Adding to my incredulity was the incongruous presence of hawkers with bonnets, scarves, and boa. Commercialism had found its place near the crater.
It wasn’t until only this May that I set foot again in Bandung. The invitation came from my gal-pal Theresia to join her church group, Wanita Katolik RI Ranting St Maria Ratu Pengantara segala Rahmat, from Cabang St Servasius, Kampung Sawah, on their annual outing. The gaggle of mature and young ladies was grass widows relishing the break from their duties as wife, mother, or padre de familia for a whole day. The journey wasn’t lacking in giggles and guffaws, complaints and ruffled feathers, and good old-fashioned camaraderie. I was witness to a tableau of familial ties in its rawness, which, being a recluse, opened a whole new appreciation in me for human interaction and Bandung.
Dusun Bamboo, or Bamboo Village, is a green sanctuary located in Lembang. The relaxing effect of nature begins at the right of the entrance where your sight falls on rice paddies so green you’d think the landscape was photo shopped by the universe; to the left are vehicles to take one around the family leisure park. It is best to go on foot to take in nature and its cool air especially coming from scorching Bekasi where the temperature is a few degrees higher. Most travellers stay a night or more at Dusun Bamboo to get away from the madness of the city, as facilities are not lacking and restaurants abound. One restaurant, Lutung Kasarung, caught my attention because of its design: a birdcage. The dining “birdcages”, which fit two or more diners, are suspended in mid-air and accessible by walk ways several meters from the ground. Further exploring Dusun Bamboo led Theresia and me to a lake with a floating platform surrounded by villas – presumably private dining rooms – accessible by a short ride in a decorated bumboat.
Naturally, like the millennials, the Wanita Katolik was not oblivious to selfies and group shots which weren’t just confined to the lake or rice paddies. The women know that immediate documentation on social media platform is imperative in today’s travels.
Next on the itinerary was lunch at the floating market. On account of being Ramadan, the floating market was easy to navigate: one could leisurely peruse the floating boat-kitchens on their offerings, exchange money for tokens, and secure a table. Apparently, the weekends – the time local tourists descend upon the place – are filled with mobs of diners jostling to, say, order a plate of satay and get a table.
Unlike the floating market of Thailand, the boat-kitchens are moored to their places, the vendors – cranky or not – waiting for customers so they could fire up their stoves. Others are a little too swift in their cooking that their dishes are exposed way too much than they should. That was my mistake in buying crispy tahu (tofu) which had lost its crunchiness. Fortunately, the chocolate-cheese pisang goreng (banana fritters) was cooked on the spot hence it was still crispy when it was time to have dessert. Similarly, the skewered satay ayam (grilled chicken) were placed on the grill only after we had placed our order. The satay ayam was good, but its proportion to the lontong (rice cake) was a disappointment compared to the wonderfully balanced portion at Satay Ayam Madura, a satay stall at Summarecon Mall Bekasi.
The language barrier broke down a bit as I caught snippets of the Wanita Katolik’s stories in between bites: a crabby member’s endless complaints, how good the es cendol (cold Indonesian drink), who is ordering pisang goreng again, the oleh-oleh (gift; food or not) and kue (cake) they should buy at the floating market, etc.
Majority of the women had a penchant for gardening so Kebun Begonia, a garden-and-vegetable market, was the last stop. The whole lot was divided into the garden, or what I call the selfie place with its various picture stations, and vegetable patches. It was every woman for herself at this point: some scrutinized the flowers, evaluating which ones to add to their garden; Theresia et al took selfies; and I went for ginger tea. Ginger tea is ubiquitous in Indonesia particularly hot or cold wedang jahe. My hot wedang jahe helped to chase away the cold seeping into my body and rejuvenate my flagging energy (I had been up since 4am). Some joined me for a cuppa and quickly put me to shame. They downed it like water to the last drop while I struggled with the strong, biting taste and only finished half of my cup.
First impressions do last but they can quickly change when the opportunity presents itself. Bandung was a revelation with its greenery and cool weather. Fortunately, traffic was smooth because of Ramadan thus no delays in the itinerary. It was a bonus too to have been part of a group of women who, despite the language barrier, made an extrovert-introvert agnostic feel very much part of their close-knit group.