Birds, Flowers, and Surprise Temples: Exploring the City of Malang

Creating and maintaining a consistent schedule has proven to be quite the challenge here, and so it was only recently that my site mate and I were able to acclimate ourselves to our weekly responsibilities and coordinate regular free time.  We are fortunately both free every other Monday, which allows us to explore areas in and near Malang while also avoiding tourist traffic.  Recently, she and I explored some of the more famous places within the city limits.

Hotel Tugu is a high end hotel near the center of Malang.  Neither my travel book nor the internet were able to give me much information about this remarkable place, but I was able to glean that Hotel Tugu has a sister hotel on the island of Bali, and that many of the trees I saw on the premise were rescued from the Malang Botanical Gardens when parts of it were destroyed by developers.  Inside the Hotel itself are artifacts from Indonesia, both from traditional culture and from the days of Dutch colonialism, as well as other parts of Asia.  In this way, Hotel Tugu doubles as a museum, and is free to the public.

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Very little is labeled in Hotel Tugu, so while wandering its ground floor is fascinating, it is not particularly informative.   The occasional bowl might be labeled with a simple tag saying “Ming Dynasty,” but no more information is provided, and many items are not labeled at all.  I have always loved the education I am able to get from the more organized museums I have experienced in America and Europe, but there was something about trying to puzzle out what the uses and origins of different objects were that somehow embodied the heart of inquiry that I believe is part of any museum visit.

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At one end of Hotel Tugu there is a kind of temple hidden in a corner.  Its tall, imposing sides and shadowy alcoves only sometimes occupied by statues transported us out of the bustling city of Malang and into a peaceful, solitary place for self-reflection… at least until the honking of horns reminded us that the busy street was just on the other side of it’s cool, stone walls.  Due to a lack of labeling and a shortage of information about Hotel Tugu online, I am unsure whether this temple is a restoration or a replica, and I have no idea what its name is.  But I was extremely appreciative of its lack of ropes and barriers, which allowed me to breathe in, touch, and even climb on the mysteries of this inexplicable artifact.

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Near Hotel Tugu there are some fairly well-known markets, one of which is Pasar Bunga, or the flower market.  Blooms in every color line the street, and it was extremely difficult for me to not bring home a little potted plant to brighten my apartment.  I’m unsure of the regulations regarding bringing houseplants across borders, and feel it would be unkind to adopt a tiny sprig of life that might not be able to benefit from a green thumb after my time here.  But this was only my first visit to the market: I might not be able to resist next time.

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After a short walk, Pasar Bunga turns into Pasar Senggol, Malang’s relatively famous bird market.  “Senggol” is essentially Indonesian for “bump into,” in reference to the crowded nature of the market on weekends, and of most markets in Indonesia, to be honest.  Fortunately for my site mate and I, it was relatively quiet, being a Monday, and while the market was still crowded with wood, metal, and plastic cages of varying ornateness, there were few people.

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The bird market is filled with the calls and colors of tropical birds.  Many of the birds at the market are native to Indonesia, though not necessarily to Malang.  These winged jungle inhabitants are not the pigeons, sparrows, and swifts I am accustomed to seeing flying above the fields around my school.

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The market did not limit itself to tropical song birds, and it had more than its fair share of owls, eagles, crows (which are supposedly still used in black magic rituals) and the ever-present chickens.  There were also, cats, dogs, monkeys, gerbils, geckos, and even the occasional snake.  Like most of Indonesia, it was a mix of the exciting and the ordinary; sometimes the two can be found perfectly blended into one small cage, such as the chicks we found that had been dyed various colors, for reason unknown to us.

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Seeing so many animals in tiny cages was as heartbreaking as it was incredible.  I’ve never fully understood the desire to cage an animal meant to fly, and seeing these tropical birds pant under the hot afternoon sun to which they are unaccustomed made me want to break open every cage and set them free, but part of being a cultural ambassador is trying to reign in such impulses, and seek to understand, rather than judge.  After telling her that I had visited the bird market, one of my co-teachers told me of her husband’s love for birds, and how he loves his pet birds like they were his children; it seems that is some ways, not all birds in cages must also be prisoners.  Having been raised in the agricultural industry, I am acutely aware of how complicated the concept of domestication can be, and how important it is to educate ourselves about the aspects of animal-human relationships with which we are unfamiliar.  When I am able to keep the more sensitive side of me in check, I find it is actually exciting to have my own ideas of the rights and wrongs of animal care challenged.

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Malang does not go completely unnoticed by tourists, as it is on the island of Java, the favorite child of Indonesia, but it is certainly not as popular as the islands of Bali and Lombok, or the cultural city of Yogyakarta in Central Java.  But with its own unique blend of familiar western influences and unfamiliar traditions and history, I could not have asked for a better city in which to have been placed.  I find it entirely appropriate that Malang is one of the university cities of Indonesia, because if there is one thing I am always doing here, it is learning.

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