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Published: March 11th 2021
Aha, I found the red threads connecting the article wrote earlier about Kochi and Lasem! It was the same Admiral Zheng He, who visited Kochi and arrived in Lasem in 1413! Located on the Northern Coastal of Java, Lasem is known as Little China and was one of the gateways to Java for the migrants coming from China in the 14-15th century to Indonesia. For a small town so near to the Capital City of Central Java, Lasem remains untouched and far from the typical hustle and bustle of Indonesian cities. No malls, no cinemas and not many coffee shops either. In fact, it was more like a little town stuck in a time-warp!
The drive from Semarang took about 3 hours; we had to pass Demak, Kudus, Jepara and Rembang. Interestingly, Demak was famous for its oldest mosque, Kudus for its soupy cuisine, Jepara, for its wood carvings, while Rembang, is the fifth largest producer of salt in the country for industrial and retail consumption. As we drove along the coastline, we could see mountain of salts piling on one side of the road. The harvest season for salt usually occurs during the dry season from July to September.
Lasem is known for its Batik Tiga Negeri or Three Country Batik which has colorful and lively design. The three color of Batik Tiga Negeri: red, blue and yellowish brown is processed naturally from the roots of Noni fruits, indigofera leaves and from the tree bark of Cudraina javanensis respectively. It is believed batik painting had started even during Majapahit Kingdom era but was thriving in the 18th century with the arrival of cotton clothing imports from India. Local production of batik was then exported to Europe. What's unique about Batik Lasem is it has a distinct design of which origin was said to have influence from China, Europe, India, Persia and Java. The technique was refined by a husband and wife team, Bi Nang Un adn Na Lini, who were part of Zheng He's troops and were stationed in Lasem in the 15th century.
Unlike other parts of Java, Lasem only produce hand painted batik, and one house which had kept its tradition for years was Rumah Oei ("House of Oei"). Roemah Oei was built by an immigrant from Fujian, China, Oei Am, in 1818. He and his descendants used to live in this house but today,
it had been converted to a museum, restaurant and an Inn, run by the 7th generation. It is known as the House of Peranakan that promotes local cuisine as well as hand painted batik. House of Oei is not only cozy but also historical; it reminds me of the tea houses in the old town of Chengdu.
Our next destination was Tjoe An Kiong temple, the oldest temple in Lasem. It was said the temple was built in the 16th century. Interestingly, one part of its wall was covered by monochrome murals believed to reflect the mythology of Taoist Gods by Xu Zhonglin, Chinese writer who lived in the Ming Dynasty. We had a chance to meet the care taker of the temple who shared the fact that some of the temple's original paper trail was confiscated during one of the raids in the 80s and was never returned. On the door, there was a wood carving of a panther which symbolized the taming of cruelty.
We were also lucky to have visited Ratavana Arama Temple, a Buddhist temple, for private use. It is said to have the largest sleeping Buddha statue (14th meter length) in Indonesia. Before
we climbed to where the Sleeping Buddha was, we passed a Boddhi tree.
On our way back to Semarang, we stopped by at Pertapaan Bunda Pemersatu Gedono ("Gedono Monastery"), a Catholic Retreat Place located on a hill, used for retreat. Established in 1987, it housed 40 nuns, and for whatever reasons, the number of its occupants could never be above 40. Out of the 40 nuns, one is in charge of the external communication. Apart from praying, the nun spent their time doing daily chores such as managing vegetable plantation and preparing jam, syrup, cake, home-made cheese, yoghurt and butter, of which milk is sourced from the local community.
Since my first visit, I had been back to Lasem. This time, I and my relatives had an opportunity to visit Batik Nyah Kiok, a Batik House where the ladies had been creating the same Gunung Ringgit Pring pattern batik in the past 50 years. Interestingly, the batik preparation was processed at a 100 years old Javanese style house, as part of Yayasan Lasem Heritage or Lasem Heritage Foundation. As we walked around at the old town, we came across a grandma who was friendly and invited us to
her house! She lived with her son and daughter in law. We were served mangoes, cookies and tea. What a pleasant surprise!
My favorite batik house was Luminto, run by Ibu Eka, whose team of ladies produce high quality, well designed batik. The gallery and workshop were located behind a wet market, so secluded that we didn’t know there was a beautiful, heritage Javanese House! Of course, there were others that we didn’t even have a chance to visit: Beruang, Maranatha, Mawar, Sekar Kencana, Katrin Bee, Padi Boeloe, Batik Gajah, Dua Putri, Kidang Mas, Purnomo, Ningrat, Sumber Rejeki, Mulya Jaya, Asri Ana Budaya, Sekar Mulya, Ar Rahma, Gendhis, Hamdanah, Pesona Canting, Gading Kencana, Najam, dan Barokah.
Whilst I visited the same sites, there were more places that I missed: Lawang Ombo or Opium House built in 1860 by Lim Sim Kiok, an opium trader. Another one that I have missed was Omah Tegel or House of Tile, and Rumah Batik Kidang or Batik House Kidang. Perhaps, there will be next trip!
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