Indonesia 2016

Malang pt. 1: Volcanoes, Testicles, and Blindness [TW]

I stopped writing about what I was up to for the last few days of my trip because I went through a bit of a meltdown. First I lost my purse (which I wrote about in a word-vomit shortly after it happened), and second, the cash transfer that I was waiting for was delayed by three days.

On my final evening I ended up going from branch to branch begging to be allowed to withdraw the cash. For a while I was certain that I would be down to my last 9,000IDR (about 40p).

It was honestly the most stressful event of my life, and I may write about it when I stop getting shivers every time I see a Western Union. Anyway, that’s why I suddenly stopped writing. I’m catching up now.

[TW: animal cruelty]

Malang is a cosmopolitan, ex-colonial city in east Java, not far from the channel to Bali. The streets are wide; there’s greenery among its malls and outlet stores; and many of the street names are still in Dutch as well as Bahasa Indonesian. I even had a (moderately dissatisfying) dinner in a Dutch-style restaurant, Toko Oen. Malang had a calm, pleasant atmosphere to it, rather than being as bustling as other big Javanese cities, and it was there that I had the one day of my holiday where it didn’t rain. (Click to read Malang parts 2 and 3).

Malang itself doesn’t have a vast amount to offer a traveller; the main reason I went was to go to Mount Bromo, a volcano about three hours further east. Tourists visit at sunrise and get a snap of what’s possibly the most beautiful natural sight in Java.

This is the least Photoshopped image I could find and it still looks like this.

Reader, I couldn’t go to Bromo. Given the string of awful luck I’d experienced throughout the trip, I was surprised to be surprised.

But Malang gave me a lot, nonetheless.

I arrived at 4am and was met, to my immense relief, by the man with whom I booked my accommodation. On the half-hour, 15km journey from the station to his house, that relief was replaced by a sinking feeling when I realised I’d booked four nights in a scruffy homestay far, far from the city centre.

(Homestays can be lovely — getting to spend time with local people in their homes, eating proper food, learning about their lives — but it also can be immensely awkward when you have to pick your way through toys and pretend not to overhear arguments. This family also all started their days at 5am).

Once I had gotten enough sleep to have recovered from the night train, I headed into the city and started exploring. My first stop was the Hotel Tugu: the fanciest hotel in Malang, costing a princely £62 a night. Why did I go there? Because as well as having a spa, pool, wine bar, and top-rated restaurant, it has a astonishing collection of Indonesian and Chinese artefacts collected by its owners over the last fifty years, which can be viewed for free.


The entire place was deserted. Walking among these beautiful statues, snapping pictures and stopping to dip my hand into a small fountain, I felt like an intruder casing the joint.


This is a Nandi or bull, the mount of Shiva. I noticed they paid special attention to carving his testicles. As Shiva is the most popular Hindu god, Nandis are all over the place in India, and they always, without fail, had balls as large as these or bigger.

I found this man in the restaurant, along with a few others, and, well, I wasn’t really sure what to say.


Note the Dutch currency. Hipster af.

I then had a long walk around the central area — something I do everywhere I visit, without fail — and eventually headed for a place that I’d never have heard of if it weren’t for my beloved guidebook: a massage centre called Massage Nuansa Fajar. All the masseurs / masseuses are blind or partially sighted, and they’re trained to do this via apprenticeships to give them a stable living.

The place was difficult to find and doubled as a corner shop, so I waited to be seen on a threadbare sofa while men came in to buy cigarettes and bottled water and to look at me curiously.

The woman who massaged me (whose name I’ve sadly forgotten) had a little beeper in her pocket that rang every fifteen minutes of the hour-long session, so that she could keep on time. Otherwise the massage was as amazing as I’d come to expect from my trip; the only difference was that she was very, very careful with the massage oil, and she touched my elbows and knees to get me to move rather than speaking. The hour cost me about £3 and it was lovely.

The next thing on my agenda was the opposite of my day thus far in every way: a visit to the local animal market, Pasar Bunga Kota. These animals were not dead and being sold for meat. They were live, being sold for pets, local animist rituals, black magic, and who knows what else. Possibly meat, too.

I regret going. It goes without saying that I think it’s wrong to keep owls and lizards and monkeys and dogs and cats and ravens and large birds and rabbits and civets in small, dirty cages on a busy, dirty street. I’m a liberal Western woman. It almost goes without saying.

But I was alone in thinking that it was wrong. There were a few other white people wandering around with their cameras, and we made pained eye contact at each other, but otherwise it was business as usual. There was a roaring trade.

I was reminded of a similar situation in Mumbai, where I did the only thing I thought would help, and bought one of the cats. I’m not as naive now: I knew there was nothing I could do for any of these animals.

And so by going to that market, I was doing nothing but upsetting myself by exploring an aspect of Javanese life that was only ever going to upset me, but which I couldn’t do anything about.


Fortunately, the following two days in Malang were much nicer.