I was traveling from Malang to Lasem on land. It has been 8 years since my last trip on bus (which was end up pretty rough). Traveling for me is all about meeting new people and feel what should be feel. I always like to see the sunset from my bus or talk to strangers that really come from a different walk from my life. Since I have been occupied by new jobs in 2011, I was pampered with comfort with the transportation and reallly cozy hotels. Actually it is nice, but sometimes everything is soo unreal. I am not sure why.
So here I am on a bus trip from Surabaya to Lasem. I put my earphone on and started to see how the sky moved. Sometimes I see a young version of me in the window. It was 1992. You see, me and my family used to go for a long trip through the North Coast of Java. It was quite a nice family trip, though the car was a bit rusty. We, sometimes, stopped in a white sandy beaches along the coast. Sipping nice coconut water and feel the air whistle through my face. It was a very nice feeling. Along the way, sometimes, I can see my mom’s smiling at me through that window and I smile back at her.
Since having a much better job, I don’t have that much of time talking to people. You see, money give you the ability to buy stuff that won’t let you talk to people. We buy this and that to distinguish our self from the crowd. Though sometimes, everything that you bought just don’t fit with you. I decided to talk with a young-yellow-teethed-boy that sit next to me. He was cold as stone, but I managed to chat with him.
“I just visited my dad in Rungkut, Surabaya.”
So you don’t lived with your family?
“Yeah, mom died few years ago, now I lived with grandma”.
Such a bitter life.
My crazy bus driver getting nuts when the night start. Acres of salt field saying goodbye to the hot sunny day. Thousands of birds flying back to their nests. Such a lovely view. Except some new ugly building, surely nothing much changed since 1992. My bus stopped at Rembang. I jumped out and directly go to a three stars hotel in front of the alun-alun. The room was ok and clean. After some hot shower, I went into the alun-alun to grab something to eat. It was a nice but cheering alun-alun, where people gathered to celebrate the weekend.
In the morning I went out to Lasem, with a mini-bus (20 min drive to the east) which cost me. A very hot morning with no breakfast. I called Mbak Chandra, from Pondok Sadar Wisata Lasem, yesterday and we agree to meet up in front of Masjid Jame Lasem. As soon as my small mini bus enter Lasem, I started to see a couple of old big Indische-Chinese houses along the way. They all looked very dusty. Well, no wonder with hundreds or probably thousands of buses/trucks/cars passing every single days. I stopped in front of this big mosque, in an area that local called as alun-alun with no alun-alun can be seen where I met Mbak Chandra. After some hand shake, she took me with her old motor bebek to a small alleyway where suddenly the world change.
I decided to take over the motorcycle and let Mbak Chandra sat in the back seat soon as we arrived at Rumah Merah, in the heart of Karangturi (one out of three Chinese dominated village in Lasem.
“This never happened before Mas.. you are our first guest that decided to drive the tour guide”.
The Little China in Java
I never been to China, but I think this is probably how old Chinese Village looked like. Big white walls with beautiful doors (Chinese-style) holding big houses. It was such a treat for history lovers or for foreigners like me. I can’t help myself to took some photos for these beautiful doors. Oh gosh, can’t believe this kind of thing still exist.
As I mention to you all before that these houses hold so many stories. Mbak Chandra took me to some of it. I visit the House of Om Gwan or Guan (not sure). He is very old mostlikely 70-ish and living alone (unmarried). Majority of these big houses in Lasem possessed a very nice looking porch where guests are welcome to sit and sip some tea. In front of these nice houses there’s always be photos of the first owners. Om Gwan also have some. He let me in to his house, how nice. It was not the prettiest, but surely used to be very pretty. I can see that he need to fix his house ASAP or perhaps in the next few years it will collapsed. Inside the house I can see some authentic and very old Chinese influenced furniture including a very antique bed. I think they need to be restored and placed in a museum dedicated to Peranakan in Indonesia. The backyard was amazingly LARGE but very messy. I believe this condition occurred because Om Gwan is very old and can not fix his house anymore. He spent most of his time sitting in the porch with his dog and watch the time move.
Other house that I visit was this big house in front of the Lasem main street. It was all dusty but when you go into the backyard and you will be like WHOAAAAAA, a very large European style garden. The house itself look much better from the back. The owner Lie Thiam Kwie was a very rich dude back in the early 1900-s owning a very successful tegel or tiles factory with machine came directly from Leipzig (which give the name LZ tegel). Now, everything is very different from it used to be. The house owner moved to Semarang and leaved the house empty. The factory still working with less than 5 workers making a very simple tegel or sometimes con block. Photos of the family still hanging in the house, keeping all the memories.
I am not sure what annoyed me with all of these, is it the government that just never had anytime preserving our history or whether Indonesian tend not to like history, but we have been neglecting pages of our rich history so much. I am sure history is not only about exciting tales or nice building to be told, but it is more like a lesson learn. Lasem actually owned it, the sense of tolerance that keep this small safe from time to time. You see when VOC sack the city in 1750, Chinese and Javanese (and finally the Arab) fight together against the Dutch. They keep it as a memory in one of the temple here.
She took me to three different temples, where I fall in love with the second one: Cu Ang Kiong. The outer and inner interior was amazing! I can’t believe with all the details that been made. I mean seriously, the tiles, the paintings, murals, all the writings and of course the buildings itself. Such an architecture. The caretaker inform me that no picture can be taken in the main altar and I believe I need to obey that. The Cu Ang Kiong temple located in the Village of Dasun, just 100 meters from the main road. It was located just next to the Chinese’s kapitan house in Lasem (the one that used to smuggled drugs to Lasem). After some picturesque photo shoot, I flee out of the temple and going out from the central visiting the grand trembesi tree.
The Tree and The Batik
The road was not nicely paved with asphalt, actually it is more like sand and mud. Mbak Chandra took me out the the country, crossing all the non-Chinese villages, through the sawah and ladang, to finally meet this very old tree: Trembesi. It was amazing in size. I never thought that tree with such size still exist in Java. Chandra told me about all the superstition that surrounding this tree which then make it as a sacred token to Lasem. It was a very nice and calmy feeling sitting under this big giant. There was this small batik workshop where they do all the hand drawn traditional batik paintings. It was one of Lasem’s expertise where, I believe, the Chinese brought the knowledge from the mainland.
I went to one of the batik house in Karangturi. A very nice house, elegant. Like majority of big houses in Lasem, it holds a very large backyard. This one is consumed by a small batik workshop. A man who lived here ain’t that ordinary Saudagar Batik. Majority of batik businessman in Lasem are Chinese and most of their children now decided to give up the business. Not sure why. The owner of kidang mas batik actually one of them. He used to be schooled in Jakarta and work in that hustling city. But home call him back and reset all his thought about living the metropolitan life! Pak Rudi saw his little toddler girl play with one of the batik’s artist.
“She reminds me to myself when I was a little, joined the lunch with all pembatik in his parent’s workshop”.
He sky gazing.
“I am not sure about the future, as my workers are getting older and no new young generation now willing to work as pembatik tulis..”
He replied my question about what future hold to this industry.
Before leaving the small little town that I suddenly fall in love with it, I went for shalat dzuhur in the local surau which in Pesantren Kauman. The kyai who lived there, also headmaster of the this islamic school is Gus Zaim, a very tolerant kyai I might say. We actually chat a lot ha-ha-ha, talking about history of Lasem and Islam, about tolerance, about those good old days when he was a boy living in Lasem.
“My great granddad actually came from West Sumatra”.
Which linked us somehow. Ha-ha.
Every santri in his pesantren understand about the importance of tolerance living in such multicultural environment. I am totally with him. The small little town showed a very contrast image of Islam with what we always see on TV lately.
The Sarong life.
I spent my last day browsing Rembang, a much bigger small town than Lasem (LOL). I learn from the locals, that they really having zero problem doing their thang with sarong. So, I did my night walk to restaurant or alun-alun only with my shirt and sarong. It was not really bad actually. I am thinking maybe in the future we should embraced more this tropical habit that used to be part of us. This will cut all the crazy electricity bills I think. LOL.
I learn a lot from Lasem and its people a lot, it’s self-developing community, sense of surviving, tolerance, and of course the feel to wear sarong for daily life. And I kind a enjoy it.