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..............Cindys Gallery - Photos of my Life
Medan, Indonesia
We are off to Medan, just short trip to see our nearest city in Sumatra, Indonesia. It is also an escape from the up coming "Songkran Festival" in Thailand, which requires everyone to throw water at everyone else. Sounds like fun, but a bucket of water hitting you full in the face is not amusing. Not that we knew at the time, but it also gets us out of the country during the troubles with the red shirts in Bangkok. It's not all good news though, 2 days before we left there was a 7 point something earth quake off the Sumatra coast, which was felt in Medan, plus numerous Tsunami warnings in the area. What is the world coming to? you are not safe anywhere. We are staying at the "Marriott" which I hope is built to withstand an earthquake, as we are on the 27th floor.

We always, (well nearly always) arrange an airport pick up on arrival, as it saves a fight with the local taxi mafia. We have never been let down by them not being there, well that was until Medan. The Marriott left us like a shag on a rock with no transport, surrounded by a sea of taxi drivers who smelt business. Cindy rang the hotel but they were more concerned with proving we had actually booked a pickup than solving the current problem. In the end we got into a rattly old taxi for the 15min drive from the airport, and presented the bill to reception on arrival. The girl at reception was about to tell me they couldn't pay when I put on my "we are not amused" face, at this she lost her nerve and ran out and paid the man.

Medan City Center

Local Fruit Stall

Cindy & Rommel

The Marriot Executive Lounge

Having booked a room on the Club Floor for the princely sum of $67 per night we were V.I.P. guests, I know last of the big spenders thats us. Our room is huge by hotel standards, a great bathroom with a big window so you can watch peolpe on the loo. It also has an electric blind that gives one some privacy when you need it. My first job is to get the music playing, I brought an mp3 player plus a CD as the hotel has inputs for all the latest gismos. Well the mp3 input didn't work even after the little man fiddled with it for 15 minutes. We settle for a DVD player that can play mp3 music files through the TV.

As part of our package we have access to the Executive Lounge with free food and drinks, so next stop is to check it out. This bit does work, lots of horse duvers, free wine and free Wifi, this is going to be fun. After eating and drinking as much as we thought decent, (they might get the wrong impession if we over did it on the frist visit), we head downstairs to find some dinner. Not being very hungry after all the finger food, we opt for sharing a Nasi Goreng. Our waiter "Rommel" is a young, guy with an infectious laugh. He has worked at the Bayview Hotel in Lang kawi and is knocked out to know we have stayed there. He wants to visit Phuket, so we give him our contact details and promise to keep in touch.

Our first morning starts with a visit to the gym which has some very nice gear and a great view out over the city. Medan reminds me a bit of Pakistan, it has been a nice city at some time, but urban decay is setting in. Walking is not easy, the footpaths are in a terrible state of repair, there are open drains everywhere and missing manholoe covers. Walking the streets at night would be fraught with danger, any minute you could fall into a pit of the most undescribable rubbish floating in polluted water.

The first outing is to "Plaza Medan Fair", calling in at "Petisah Pasar market" on the way back, we decide to walk as its only about 20 minutes away. Just getting across the road is life threatening, not like Vietnam where the traffic weaves around you, this mob will just run you over. We spot a pedestrian foot bridge and head for that. It is debatable wheather crossing the road by the bridge is any safer than dodging cars below. The steps are wooden and many of them are broken or just not there. At the top we find the metal so rusty that there are holes big enough to lose a foot in. At one end a lost soul has made a hammock from a flag and is fast asleep oblivious to us passing. Under normal conditions this would be a 20 minute walk, but the missing flagstones, broken rubble and gaping holes makes the going slow. You can only look around with one eye, the other must be watching where you put your feet. We come upon a Muslim cemetary which at first glance looks well tended, we ask if we can enter and the caretaker seems happy. We take a few photos and chat to the caretaker (in sign language) about which direction Mecca is, and which way round the bodies are placed. We learned how the muslims are buried. They have their feet towards Mecca (see foot note) & are laid out on their sides. The graves are dug 3mtrs deep. The headstone is in arabic and the footstone is in roman text. We head off round the side to find the rest of the cemetary is over grown and graves are so tightly packed there is no room to move. Around the edges and in every spare spot are the small graves of children who have been squeezed in between the adults.

Muslim Cemetary

Suicidal Footpaths!

Local Medan Children

"Shanty Town" Shop

"Plaza Medan Fair" turned out to be a local shopping hangout and we were a bit of an attraction with lots of "Hello mister". Something I have noticed here are the women, not what I expected at all. We were prepared for the reaction we get in Malaysia, the Malay women just don't look at men period and the looks they give Cindy are nothing short of disgust. Medan could not be more different, big smiles with lots of eye contact and they all but flirt with you. So refreshing to see women who are free to interact without all that "thou shalt not" stuff.

We went back via the local "Petisah Pasar Market" where we were quite a novelty! I don't think Medan gets many tourists, so they're not used to seeing Westerners. Every stall we stopped at the shopkeepers seemed to be giggling about us. We felt like we were in an episode of ""Dr Who" & had just landed in the Tardis! They kept calling out "hello mister" to me and the only other english words they seemed to know were "howdy" & "coca-cola".Funny they never spoke to Cindy, in Asian countries men are always the boss & women almost ignored.

On the upside, for Cindy shoes are approx $4 a pair & she picked up a pair of sensible shoes "homeypeds" that were on specail for $7. Cindy has a special knack when it comes to shoes. I reckon she has an inbuilt hardrive which scans & records every pair of shoes she's ever laid eyes on. But today she had a hard drive crash & definitely needs more ram! There must have been about 200,000 pairs of shoes in this one shop & she was ashamed to say it was all too much for her. Her eyes just glazed over & she didn't buy a thing.

Houses are very affordable here, there were several stands offering 2 bedrooms, 2 floors with a roof garden, little front garden, little back garden, brand new for the princely sum of A$45,000. Even included an electrical package consisting of a home theatre, rice cooker & gas cooker! They are like townhouses all joined together in Venetian style with bay windows, columns etc. They're not finished yet but we can see them from our hotel. We might go have a look. We got a brochure advertising that they were originally 430 million rupeah but they're now selling for 380 million rupeah. So you can save 50 million!!!! There's 9000 rupees to the A$. What a bargain!!!

The security at the Marriott is pretty hot, all cars enter a bomb proof shelter for checking before they can enter the grounds. They have security guards all around the hotel, bomb sniffing equipment at the main entrance & all your bags have to be scanned & we have to be metal detected every time you enter the hotel. Marriott's are notorious for being bombed, so I guess they have to be careful.

Bargain Townhouse for A$45,000

Clover Bakery with armed guards out front

Our homeless lady (sound asleep!)

A visit to "Kampung Keeling" (Little india) today proved a shade elusive. We're putting it down to the fact that it was Sunday. We found the "Sri Mariamman" Indian temple (which was closed) but we couldn't find much else Indian, apart from a few dark faces. We did find a rather posh cake shop called "Clover Bakery" with 2 armed guards out the front! We initially walked past but then went back as we thought it must be worth a look if the cakes were worth that kind of protection. The cakes were pretty posh, but typically asian looking - lots of mock cream, gawdy colours. A heart attack on a plate. It was extemely hot today as the sun was out. We took refuge in a large shopping mall called "Sun Plaza". It's amazing, you go from poverty & squallar outside, into a shiny, marble, 7 floor shopping center!! Equal to anything you'd find at home. Cindy bought 3 pairs of "Marie Claire" shoes, couldn't help herself. Less than $100 for 3 pairs, so much cheaper than Oz, but way more expensive than the market shoes. Typical Cindy, expensive taste! When she got back to the hotel, all Cindys new shoes had to go through the security scanner.

Last night on the way back to the hotel there was a homeless beggar woman on the street, not far from the hotel. She looked like a branch that had fallen off a tree. She had green dangly bits hanging from her hair & she was curled up in a ball. I gave her a few bob as we passed & she gave us a big cheezy grin with a mouth full of missing teeth.

We've had a pretty good day of exploring. We found a beautiful old Chinese Mansion marked on our map so we decided we'd try to find it. "Tjong A Fie Mansion" was built about 1890. Two brothers who came from Canton, China settled in Sumatra and rose to be Mayors of Medan. Tjong A Fie died in 1921 but his decendants still occupy part of the building. They have one very similar in Penang, Malaysia (which we loved) so thought we'd take a look at the Indonesian version. As we seemed to be the only visitors for the day we were given a personal guided tour by a very nice Indonesian lady who spoke good english & explained the history of the house to us. For the first 10 minutes all the two of us did was sweat while she was talking. We both had sweat running down our foreheads, backs of our legs & lots of unmentionable places! It's very hot here & as soon as you stop, the sweat seems to just pour out of you! We wandered around the backstreets surrounding the mansion & got to see a bit of real Indonesian life. The streets were full of fabric sellers, tile shops & building supplies & again we were quite a novelty.

We stopped in at a shanty town later in the afternoon, we had seen all the tin roofs from our hotel window & thought we'd take a closer look. Definitely very poverty stricken but interesting to walk around. The local children soon found us & started yelling "hello mister" again!! Soon we had a bunch of about 8 young boys following us & couldnt get rid of them. I shook all of their hands which they thought was hilarious. We stopped frequently today for re-hydration (non alcoholic!). I had been seeing a drink here called "Pokari Sweat" & vowed to try it before we left. This afternoon I got a chance & found a nice cold bottle. It's like a sports drink that replaces salt, a bit salty & a bit lemony but quite refreshing.

Tjong a Fie Mansion

Derek giving our homeless lady some money,
she can't believe her luck!
Just before diner tonight I went outside to find my homeless lady & give her some more money. We're talking 10,000 rupeah which is about $1.20. I found her tonight curled up against a crash barrier in the middle of the road! Walking across I gave her some more money & she almost hesitated to take the money & gave me the biggest smile. You wonder how these people get into such dire situations. I reckons she's not that old, it's difficult to tell but probably not even 30. What can you do, there are proably hundreds of women like her and giving her too much money will only make her a target for robbery.

Tomorrow we are going to visit the Presidential Palace & the Grand Mosque. Not a big day, but in this heat, & the suicidal footpaths one can only venture so far!!I always say "you can't have the palaces & the mosques without the holes in the footpath, it's a package".

Yesterday we had a ride in a traditional "becak". It's a motorbike with a sidecar that seats 2 very skinny Indonesians!! We were struggling to both stay on the seat with our big farang bums!!! It has a little canopy over the top & also hung down the front, so we didn't have a clue where we were going. All we could see out the sides were cars & trucks whizzing by & we felt very vulnerable stuck out there in the middle of the road with only canvas betwen us. The 5 min ride cost about $2. Cheap if you get there in one piece, which thankfully we did!

Our crazy "becak"driver

Masjid Raya Al-Mashun (The Grand Mosque)

Maimoon Palace

There's also a funny smell here, which seemed more pungent today! Hard to describe - sort of a cross between "they haven't emptied my bin for a fortnight" and "has someone left the lid off the sewer", with just a slight hint of sweetness!!!. I don't think it will catch on as a perfume. It was particularly strong tonight in the swimming pool and was enhanced with the smell of the locals burning off their rubbish. A sort of burning, plastic, toxic smog!. Yummy! Welcome to Medan.

Today we take a becak to the Maimoon Palace & Grand Mosque. No seatbelts I'm afraid, even the proper taxis don't have seat belts. Oh I forgot yes they do have seatbelts but only the stretchy half. There's nothing to plug them into!!! Par for the course in Asia I'm afraid, it's just get in, cross yourself & say "Insha Allah" which means "we are in the hands of god".Yes we braved another "becak" for a 20 min ride this time! first to Masjid Raya Al-Mashun (Grand Mosque).As we entered the mosque, we both had to put on a skirt!! A long, sarong type cloth tied in a big ugly knot at the front. Cindy also had to put her shirt on & wear a scarf over her head. Just what we needed in this heat, once again we were covered in sweat but at least the long skirts hid it sliding down our legs. It's amazing how after you've sweated constantly for several hours, feeling it running down your back & soaking into your knickers, it suddenly becomes strangely comforting. No sooner had we got out of our Becak than a guide finds us and offers his services. A nice man but as with many of these guides, their English is not good and we only catch the odd word. The mosque was designed by a Dutch man back in 1906. It has influences of Islamic, European, Indian & Moorish architecture. It was paid for by the local Deli Sultan. In the grounds of the Mosque were the tombs of the Sultans family including the 16th Sultan who died in a helicopter crash during the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami.

After we visited the mosque, we asked the driver who spoke about 2 words of english, to take us to the Palace. He must have mistaken "Palace" for "Marriott" & started driving us back to the hotel. We soon realised he was heading the wrong way & showed him our picture of the palace. He nodded & immediately did a u-turn in the middle of the busiest steet in Medan! He then drove 100mtrs in the wrong direction against the oncoming traffic & then shot across six lanes of traffic & did a right hand turn!!! There was lots of honking, but no-one seemed particularly surpised, except us!!

At the palace & it was only Cindy who needed a sarong this time & a shawl over her shoulders. She was a bit miffed to have to wear a sarong & I didn't & also to find out that the Sultan (who doesn't live there any more) is only 11 years old & lives with his mummy in Sulawase. We got a photo taken of us both sitting in the Sultan & his wife's chair. The sultan's chair (mine) was one inch higher than Cindy's, just to keep the women in line.

In the Sultan's Chairs
Cindy got a photo of my little green lady tonight. We gave her some money on the way back to the hotel. She was curled up asleep when we found her, she had a bright new shawl on so the money had been put to some use. When I tapped her on the shoulder to give her the money she jumped with fright. This was our last night in Medan and I wonder what life has in store for her it would cost so little to get women like her of the streets, but how?

What did we think of Medan? Well if you are looking for holiday town it's not for you. Medan is large, run down city of over 2 million, but it does have nice people who give you a great welcome. People went out of their way to say hello, girls in particular walked as close as they could before giving you a big smile. I liked it, behind all the urban decay is a city with a lot of history, many of its buildings have had a grand past. I was surprised how easy going their brand of Islam is, Cindy was able to wander around in shorts and sleveless tops as were many other women. We only saw 3 other westerners during our walks round the city and I found that very refreshing.

Foot note
Mecca to the muslims is the equivalent of Jerusalem to the christians, only more so. When they pray they must face Mecca, when they're buried they must face Mecca. Meccas is actually a city in Saudi Arabia & there is an annual pilgrimage to Mecca called "the haj" which all muslims are supposed to do once in their life. All hotels in this part of the world have an arrow in the hotel rooms which points to Mecca. It's either on the ceiling, floor or hidden in a drawer which tells the muslims which direction mecca is. Some hotels even have a prayer mat so they can pray in their rooms. In our room we have a copy of the muslim holy book "The Koran", a Christian Bible & The Book of Mormon. We also found our Mecca arrow last night, it's in a drawer, so when we hear the muslim chants (which are the call to prayer & happen 6 times a day), we'll know which way to face.

Every day 6 times a day the call to prayer can be heard over the city. It's a reminder that they've got about 15mins to get to the mosque & probably about 10% of them go & the rest just ignore it. The chants come from a big tall tower at the side of the mosques called a "minaret". The calls are actually made by humans & it's a sort of song sung in arabic & the words are something like "alla wachba" which means god is great.