Semarang

Trip Start Nov 05, 2008
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Trip End Dec 05, 2008


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Flag of Indonesia  , Java,
Sunday, November 16, 2008

Seeing citys and landscapes pass by, exploring the differences and similarities, screening and digesting what I see is an ever thrilling experience which makes travelling so worthwhile for me. Piece by piece the picture becomes more complete. But it is meeting the locals which makes the experience truly memorable.

The internet offers many opportunities to do so for instance by becoming a member of Couchsurfing.com, a community of people who host each other for free in their private homes. I first tried this sort of hospitality in Semarang, a mayor city on the north coast of Java where Sony, a couch surf activist upon my travel ad had repeatedly invited me to stay with him for a few days at his family's place. He was kind enough to pick me up with his motorbike at the train station, where I arrived with a third class local train. Riding there was fun, too and allowed further ample studies of rural life with all doors and windows open or smashed.

Sony gave me a fist class city tour and spent the next two days showing me around. Semarang which was one of the most important colonial ports of the Dutch has a nice old town with a neo- baroque main church, art deco street lamps and a number of nice buildings from the twenties. Next to it lies a Chinatown with an old temple and some Arabian quarters near the main mosque, surrounded by a lively market area, but it all is rotting away realy badly. If I were to live here I'd found a heritage protection society, would try to find a meaningful new purpose for the old town and would die with an Indonesian honour medal on my chest.

The next day we took the local buses to go hiking in the mountains. It was a mild stroll around 5 old Hindu temples. The promised view on the surrounding mountains was obstructed by clouds, but it was nice and cool up there and we spent the whole day chatting and bathing in a pool with green shimmering sulphuric waters collected from hot springs.

Staying with this couchsurf host and his family was nice and truly interesting, but offered one of the most basic lodgings I have been in for a long time. A very traditional Indonesian bathroom without shower and just cold murky water, delivered like that with big interruptions by the local state run water company, as well as myriads of mosquitoes at night gave my stay a bit of a third world touch. According to my host the family could be categorised as belonging to the lower middle class and the four bedroom 80 sqm house today would cost about 800 Mio. Rupiah, about 5000 Euro..

Much of the inner city of Semarang lies below sea level and is flooded with grey waters which are pressed up everywhere from its plumbing at high tide. On the way to the train station the next morning the traffic had to cross real lakeskapes which became deeper and deeper, until finally the motor went off. We waded a bit and I had to leave my friendly host on a little intersection island where he tried to change the spark plugs, whilst I continued my water tourism 15 minutes by rickshaw to the main train station. There the waters stood about knee high and just a series of wobbly makeshift bridges led to a side entrance and to the ticket counter in the main hall. There it was back to wading again.. Ticket sales with the submerged were pursued stoically as if all this were normal. Some have to travel to Venice for such an experience Fortunately the train was late, otherwise I would have missed it.
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