Sumatra Days 3, 4 and 5.

Our third day in Sumatra really got us immersed into the culture of West Sumatra. We started out by going for a 30 minute walk around the area near where we were staying after experiencing the early wake up call to prayer.

As we were almost a kilometer above sea level,  the morning air was cool and crisp, a welcome change from the previous days in Pekanbaru and Singapore. There were lots of large houses in the area, which seemed to indicate at least an upper middle class standard of living.

At 7:30am Ida and her sister showed up to take us for breakfast. We ate at a local eatery where Peter had burbur porridge, and Marg had long ton. We got some banana chips and mini bananas at the market, and then headed out for a tour of the area.

The first stop was the park overlooking the 150 m deep Sianok Canyon below the two volcanoes. This fairly deep gorge carved by the nearby river provided water for the ride paddies in the area. Quite an impressive sight, and supposedly one of the most beautiful sights in all of Indonesia. From there we went to a nearby textile area where Marg bought a runner to convert to a pillow.

Ida wanted to take us to her hometown, which was the heart of the Minangkabau culture, in a place called Bakusangar. We hadn’t realized how connected she was in this town until we got there. She told us that her brother lived there and would meet us. What we didn’t realize is that he is an official in the town office responsible for tourism. We had a quick tour of the tourist office and then headed to the Pagaruyung Grand Palace. This palace has been rebuilt many times, with the last version destroyed in 2007 by a fire caused by a lightning strike. The palace was currently being rebuilt. The inside was off limits to non-construction workers, but we were allowed special access as we were accompanied by Ida’s brother.

The inside had elaborate wooden beams, most at a slight angle tilted out. There were also intricate patterns carved in the beams in order to replicate the original look of the palace. the attention to detail was quite incredible. The palace was to reopen this year, which meant there was a lot of work ahead of them.

We ate lunch at a pond side restaurant which had free WiFi! The food was the Padang style of laying out the dishes that they have and then you pick what you eat and pay for that portion. We were joined there by Ida’s brothers and their colleague. Each one wanted to be my Facebook friend! Facebook is a big deal here as is the RIM Blackberry.

We left the hills of Bakusangar and headed west down windy narrow roads to Padang on the coast. The clear air and Indian Ocean in front were a welcome sight.

Ida has two houses in Padang, one which also includes her private English school and the other where her mother lives and she and her husband spend some of their time. The house that we stayed at was the main one in Padang which has a 30ft ceiling in the middle and about 9 bedrooms.

We ate Murtabak for dinner. Peter had a few hours of engrossing conversation with Rezal, Ida’s husband, who teaches English at the university and also at the cement company.

Rezal is a unique individual. He loves English and gets very upset with his colleagues for not speaking English exclusively in the school as that

is what they are paid to do. He and Ida only talk English at home, and only spoke English to their children when they were growing up. Rezal  lost some colleagues in an earthquake that destroyed the center part of Padang in 2009, and has taken up writing English poetry as a form of therapy. He refuses to sleep in their main house as it has too many floors and one could get killed in an earthquake there.

We discussed many other topics including the differences between Canada and the US and Islam and the role of government in leading the development of the country. I also met Oly, a young articulate economics graduate who doesn’t trust his government and represents the face of the frustrated educated youth of Indonesia who want reform. I could see him leading the charge of a Twitter revolution .

We turned in for the night as we had a big day ahead of us teaching at three of Ida’s classes.

Day 4.

This was the day we earned our keep for the trip.

We headed to the high school around the corner from Ida’s house to talk to some classes of high school students, who were studying English to give them some exposure to Canada, Canadian culture and insight into university life in Canada.

We met the other English teachers in the school and the principle of the school, and then headed for the “classroom”.

The first awkward moment for us was when were led to the classroom, which was the mosque in the school. I thought that sort of thing was sacrilegious but apparently not.

We showed our videos on Canada and university life, took some questions and then at the end posed for about 50 pictures with the students – our second day of 15 minutes of fame. I feel sorry for real celebrities as our brief stint with localized fame was rather uncomfortable.

We ended the class and toured the school. A bunch of students were singing around a lead guitar player, and provided us entertainment.

We returned to the head master’s office and ate the requisite snack that had been provided for us.

We left that school, got into the car and headed into town to the beach to have some coconut water and stick our feet in the Indian Ocean. The sand was blistering hot, and the water very warm, like the Caribbean Sea. However, the brown sand and garbage made this beach less than idyllic.

We returned to the second school, ate a quick lunch and started the first elementary school class. This was more difficult as the kids were reluctant to speak. However, we soon got things warmed up by playing a modified version of hangman using pictures of images of Canadiana that Marg had brought along.

Marg taught another class that was slightly older and more advanced, while Peter continued his discussions with Oly.

We returned to the main house for dinner and Peter had more deep discussions on language, politics and other sundry topics with Rezal. Marg and Raida headed out to see Padang at night.

The following day was the Celebration of the birthing of Ida’s grandson. In preparation for this event, there was a large tent being erected in their front patio. This construction went on into the early morning, and almost disrupted Peter’s sleep, except for the White Noise App on the phone which drowned out most of the noise.

Day 5

This was the big day for Ida’s family. They were celebrating the birth of their grandson with the traditional birthing ceremony. They combined this with a celebration of the wedding of her son, as this side of the family’s didn’t have a celebration for him at the time of his wedding.

We got out of the house in the morning while the preparations were being done. We visited a market with some handicrafts and saw an impromptu dance rehearsal as well as some children learning some traditional dances. We visited the grounds of the museum, which we could not enter as it was closed. Surprisingly, Good Friday is a public holiday and all of these types of amenities were not open.

We then went to the department store and spent a few hours there checking out the various stores. Peter was surprised by the large number of cellular phone stores selling pretty much the same stuff in each store. How did they differentiate themselves for each other?

We returned to the house around 2pm. The party we well underway, with about 75 people eating a catered dinner while the couple sat in the traditional wedding garb in the living room on the throne. We felt sorry for them as it was very hot. We grabbed some food and joined the party. Peter was having more conversations with Rezal while Marg sat with the women.

We took the requisite pictures and then headed to the airport for the flight to Medan. The Padang airport, known as the Minangkabau airport had a terminal building with the Minangkabau roof line. Quite unique.

We arrived at Medan, and made our way to the hotel. Medan’s airport is in the middle of the city, but thanks to traffic it took us over 45 minutes to get to the hotel. We met Zulham, a friend of Marg’s colleague at UBC, and who was a group leader in Canada World Youth in the 90s. He and his wife took us to a local hawker stand and showed us some of the sights of Medan at night.


About petergsimmons

Global citizenship is conferred on those who have lived in a variety of countries, and who don’t identify with any one culture. I am such a person. Having lived in Jamaica, Canada and Japan, I have been exposed to First World/Third World, East and West, North and South. This has lead to a rich living experience, open-mindedness and curiosity about the world around me. This variety of living conditions in human landscapes is coupled with equally diverse travels in natural landscapes from the jungles of South East Asia and South America to the Arctic tundra; tropical beaches to the Himalayas, resulting in an incredible journey through life itself.
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