In 1987 my wife, Gwen, and I spent three months in a faculty exchange program with the Institute of Teacher Education and Educational Sciences of Malang, now the State University of Malang (Universitas Negeri Malang – UMI) in the city of Malang, the second largest city in eastern Java, Indonesia.
Indonesia at that time was ruled by Suharto, who, if not a dictator, ruled very firmly indeed. Suharto came to power by leading troops against a military coup, said to be led by communists, against the prior president, Sukarno. The tension that was present during the election that nominally re-elected Suharto while we there was palpable. Indonesia’s political and economic circumstances have fortunately improved dramatically over the third of a century that has passed since our visit. But even in the midst of upheaval, it was nonetheless a wonderful experience. We learned far more than we could teach and savored our experience with Indonesians and their rich and complicated culture.
Both of us taught at IKIP (above photo), while my wife also taught at Airlangga University. At the time the physical and educational resources available at the university were very limited. They simply did not have much that is taken for granted in a US university. While we found that Indonesian students were less vocal than American students, their questions – despite having only a limited library – were very thoughtful and intelligent. Both of us were very impressed by how much the students did with so little.
Upon arriving we were immediately struck by the use of becaks, three-wheeled pedal taxis. They were very, very common. One of our hosts asked if we would object to having someone pedal us around? Our response was that if we didn’t ride, would the driver eat? Our host said, “No.” So, we rode. The becaks below are driving by the bus stop. Google translates it as “fast night bus branch.” One could get on a bus and be in Jakarta the next morning.
One of our becak drivers. Becak was pronounced “bay cha” where we were. I have read that others pronounce it “bet cha.”
Lots of things moved by human power, often on bicycle wheels. Food trucks may be an Indonesian invention. 🙂
Although the sign on this cart says, Chicken Soup, he is making Chicken Satay, which is incredibly good. As a non-cook, I thought I should include this recipe. The fire used to cook the chicken gets really hot, searing in the juice and flavor; a wonderful peanut sauce is then added to it.
These women are operating the equivalent of a corner store, selling snacks, cigarettes, and produce.
With so many bicycles, there was a big demand to repair them. These men are operating an open air bicycle repair shop. They seem to specialize in tire repair.
A great deal of business took place in small kiosks. The shop on the left repairs watches, while the one on the right is essentially a hardware store. The one in the middle is probably something like a restaurant, although I’m not sure.
These men haven’t been fishing. The one on right is herding his ducks around the countryside; here, they are splashing around in a drain. It struck me as a very adaptive way to raise poultry in a densely populated area.
The area around Malang is known for the fruit and vegetables that are grown in the incredibly fertile volcanic soil. Even though it is near the equator, its altitude gives it a moderate, sometimes even cool, climate.
Most of the Indonesians seemed to enjoy our interest in photographing them.
Others were less enthusiastic.
In addition to the usual assortment of vehicles, many people used what might now be thought of as a precursor to Uber and Lyft. These were called “bemos,” essentially three-wheeled enclosed motorcycles. They held six people in the back (you really got to know your neighbor) and two in front. They often ran routes that were too far for becaks. It is my understanding that they have been phased out in favor of four-wheeled vehicles.
Gamelan music from Indonesia has an amazing, ethereal quality that I have heard nowhere else. (I’m sure a music historian or ethnomusicologist could find others.) One of our friends was taking lessons and invited us to come to one of her group’s rehearsals.
Here is an example of Javanese gamelan (Gending Moon), performed by Gamelan Nyai Saraswati (2005; Performing Music of Central Java).
This is one of the giant guardians to the Singhasari temple, 12 km from Malang. The temple is the funerary temple of the assassinated King Kertanagara, the last king of the Singhasari dynasty which once ruled eastern Java. The temple was mentioned as early as 1351.
We ran into this woman and her son in the village of Cemoro Lawang on the way to see Mount Bromo, a major volcano in east Java.
The sun rises over Mount Bromo (named for Brahma, the Hindu creator god). It was a very moving sight.
Mount Bromo is an active volcano and is part of a large caldera that belongs in Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park. The flat area around it, is call the Sea of Sand.