Monday, November 22, 2010

Indonesia's Brigadoon

The musical Brigadoon tells the story of an enchanted village in Scotland that appears out of the mist every one hundred years and disappears again after only one day. I saw the movie version many many years ago and really don't remember too much about it but it immediately came to mind when I arrived in Bandung at the beginning of November for the TEFLIN conference. (Teachers of English as a Foreign Language in Indonesia). Like Brigadoon, Bandung (even the names sound kinda similar, right?) seems to have almost magical, surreal qualities.

The only thing I really knew about Bandung beforehand was its reputation for having a cooler climate than the rest of Indonesia. I also knew that my housemate Anastasia lived with a host family there during high school and really liked it. Perhaps that's an understatement; she raves about Bandung all the time. And the Bandung Institute of Technology is quite famous. And the city is also a shopping mecca for outlet stores. Ok, so maybe I knew more than one thing about Bandung before I went, but knowing those few things still left me unprepared.

We traveled by bus from Jakarta and I was blown away by the beautiful landscape. The urban sprawl of Jakarta quickly gave way to stunning mountains, terraced rice paddies and tea plantations, waterfalls, and traditional houses. Without a doubt, this was the most breathtaking scenery I have ever seen in Indonesia. This is a landscape photographer's dream. I could hardly do it justice by snapping pictures from the bus, but here's one shot to give you an idea of the gorgeous terraced tea plantations.

Mile after mile of stunning landscapes
Then we arrived at our hotel, the GH Universal, which looked like a palace up in the hills. In the lobby there was a bubbling fountain and a magnificent chandelier. And whole room was draped in heavy red velvet curtains from ceiling to floor. I quickly checked in and made my way to my room. As soon as I opened the door, classical music filled my ears and it took me a moment to realize it was coming from my TV. The place oozed over-the-top romance and decadence, but who am I to complain. I kinda loved it. And the bed was quite possibly one of the most comfortable beds I have ever sleep in.

Yes, the bed is draped in black lace
The food at the conference also took me by surprise. It was delicious. And for those of you who have been following this blog regularly over the past year, you know that this is not an adjective I typically use for Indonesian food. The meal at the end-of-conference dinner and cultural show was absolutely fantastic. I enjoyed trying the different Sundanese dishes and the sweet, hot drinks. Maybe this cusine explains why my housemate Anastasia is so enthusiastic about Indonesian food. Her enthusiasm truly puzzled me before, but now I see where she's coming from.

The cultural show itself exceeded all my expectations too. There were a few traditional numbers, which were quite good and energetic. And then Heather, one of the Fulbright ETAs in Bandung, took to the stage and started singing. Suddenly, students poured onto the dance floor from every table at the dinner and women were rockin' out in their jilbabs and the night exploded into one big long dance party. There was a congo line, there was some swing dancing, there was even a moment when the band played 'November Rain' and a line of people sat in front of the stage and waved their lighters. Imagine that - a band covering Guns N' Roses at the TEFLIN conference! This night was truly unlike any other English language teaching event I had ever attended in Indonesia.

'Everybody needs somebody'
Between the nice cool weather, the gorgeous landscapes, the 'romantical'  hotel (to use Noreen's expression), the delicious food and the night of musical madness at the TEFLIN conference, Bandung really did prove itself to be Indonesia's version of Brigadoon, an enchanted village in the mist. I just hope I don't have to wait 100 years until my next visit.

Jackie by a mist covered volcano crater

The angklung -a traditional Sundanese instrument

1 comment:

  1. This post almost brought tears to my eyes! It is so refreshing to hear someone say anything positive about Bandung nowadays. Before returning after a 14-year absence, based upon commentary from friends and colleagues, I expected to find a dirty city overflowing with trash and full of Jakartaesque traffic jams. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the city I have so many fond memories of seemed more modern, but essentially the same: cool, shady tree-lined streets, friendly Sundanese chatting in Bahasa Sunda in markets and on angkots, and the best food I have ever had in Indonesia. Thanks for posting some Bandung love Julianne!