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Published: August 13th 2012
Medan is the third largest city in Indonesia. It's dirty; It's noisy; It's polluted. We saw very healthy rats, we had a couple of cockroach friends in our room and there are beggars everywhere. It's a large Asian city... what else could you expect? Beyond these generalizations that many people avoid on their travels, we found a city that is sooo much more. Another thing you hear about is the constant “Hello Mister!” calls. We were expecting it to be hookers trying to see that my Tyler gets a happy ending but instead it was every child on the street, and they were saying it to Rebecca! We are back in an Indonesia that isn't quite used to seeing Caucasians. The kids that aren't brave enough to say “Hello” or “Good morning” tend to snicker in their doorways and giggle or whisper with friends. As Tyler put it “We are back to being rockstars”!
Our plan was to stay in the city for a couple of nights which gave us one whole day to spend in Medan. [When we do that, it's like a travel day Oreo; travel day getting to our destination, one whole day there (AKA the cream
filling), travel day on to the next place. All together a wonderful little tool to see a place you don't need to spend much time in]
After meeting our new friend Bob who loves Canadians, we were set with a local guide to take us to the Grand Mosque and Palace. Bob is extremely animated; as soon as he heard we were Canadian, he nearly jumped up to shake our hands with a big smile and a “F*ckin' EHH!!” it was too funny! Once we got a chance to sit down and talk to Bob, we found out what a good guy he is. He is a member of the Red Cross and had a part in aiding those who were devastated by the recent tsunami on the island. He also offered to take us around free of charge. All he asked was that we make a donation to the mosque and of course pay the small fee to get into the palace. Bob used to be a guide in Bukit Lawang where he grew up and was full of useful information. After looking through his photo album we knew jungle trekking was no longer an option. We have
to do it!
The mosque ended up only being about half a block from our hostel. Respectfully, we both wore sarongs and Rebecca wore a scarf to cover her hair. The mosque was built in 1906 and must have been quite exquisite at the time. Most of the structure is made of marble with extremely high domed ceilings that are hand painted. In the large main room, there is a divider wall that separates where the men pray from where the women pray. Bob was very proud to show us this Grand Mosque that oozed a spiritual sort of comfort. It was beautiful. Pilgrims from all over Indonesia and the surrounding countries are drawn to this mosque, especially during Ramadan. The unfortunate thing is that they don't have much money to keep up with necessary restorations. This is why they ask for donations from people who tour the mosque and we were happy to donate what we could.
There was a group of students that had asked Bob if we could speak with them after our tour so that is what we did next. Just outside of the mosque a group of 7 students (I would guess were
in their early teens) eagerly waited for us. As soon as we approached them, it seemed as if they had rehearsed the entire interview. They crowded around and after the first girl had explained that their teacher assigned them a task to speak with tourists and one of them started recording with a video camera, they each took their turn asking a couple of questions about who we were, where we came from, why we wanted to come to Indonesia, why we visited Medan, what our favourite things have been, what our favourite Indonesian foods are etc. It was so cool! A couple of them seemed quite nervous and so we tried to comfort them by smiling and speaking slowly in hopes they could understand most of what we responded in English. We hope they all get an A+ because they were such great kids! When they asked what we thought of them, Rebecca honestly said “I think you are all very smart and speak very good english. It's great that you are all so dedicated to school!” They simply beamed at the response and echoed “Thank you's” over and over. When they were done their assignment, we took a
inside the main room, the throne is draped with gold/yellow fabrics
couple of photos and went our separate ways. Rebecca wrote down the website of our blog for them, so if any of them get a chance to see this, we want them to know how much they added to our visit to Medan. It would not have been the same without their genuine smiles 😊
Next was on to the palace for us where Bob told us the whole history of the Sultanate and showed us photos to put it into context. Since we weren't able to see the palace in Yogyakarta, this was definitely worth the visit. The current Sultan of Medan is the youngest since the palace was built in 1888. He was only 8 when his Father passed away and he took over the throne. There are photos of all previous sultans on the walls and tables. There are also photos of Chinese, Dutch and other European diplomats that visited in years gone by. Much of the palace we didn't get to see since it is still occupied by members of the Sultan's family, but what we did see was really pretty. In the main room there is the grand yellow throne - that the sultan sits on during special ceremonies - as well as displays of traditional dress and weapons. You can certainly see the Dutch influence on the building and other than the marble stairs, it isn't as elaborate as the mosque was. However, the wooden veranda that stretches around the entire palace and other intricate features made it stand out nonetheless. The majority of Indonesians have very little, which makes a palace like this with 55 rooms and the life that goes on there seem so unattainable.
After our tour with Bob we gave him a Canadian souvenir we had been carrying, and he was so genuinely touched by it. When we walked by hours later he was still holding it and showing it off to his friends.
Today we go to Bukit Lawang! This place is going to be one of the most memorable on our trip so far and we cannot wait to share every moment! You will hear from us as soon as we get around to blogging again, hopefully in less than a week.
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