Art, Culture and Nature — these comprise the trifecta from which the Indonesian city of Bandung stands firmly on. My introduction, however, began with food: a hearty lunch of bebek goreng and an overload of sambal, in particular.
Following a 3-hour and 20-minute journey by rail from Jakarta— and after being shown a real-life trailer of West Javanese daily hustle from the train window— it felt I was ready to sit through the whole movie, lunch inclusive.
Nuart Sculpture Park
My first afternoon in the city was spent in the copper and brass wonderland of Nuart Sculpture Park. The compound was littered with installations that demanded space and time. All beckoned not to be merely looked at, but moreso, be looked into.
Women, bare and strong, were showcased intermittently. Along with a multitude of other creations, Nuart’s signature depiction were mostly of Strength amidst Struggle.
Nyoman Nuarta, the Balinese-born, Bandung-educated sociopolitical genius behind Nuart, reeked of inspiration.
“How are you so patient?” I asked him in between selfies, as we were making our way around his smaller installations, after a 3-part film show of his grandest projects.
“When you want something, you wait.” He smiled a smile that was almost cheeky; his eyes deep in introspection, as if in touch with an ever-present hunger to create.
Later, an exclusive access to the park’s workshop reinforced my earlier observations. There, metal smiths forged masterpieces from earth, under fire, but before a waterfall. Such display of the marriage of elements was nothing short of impeccable.
That night, I went to sleep beyond impressed. The privilege of walking into Nuart’s doors has also been the reckoning of how beautifully art is made when Protest is done with and by Restraint.
Early the next day, I found myself hopping on to a bus, being whisked into the woods. There, nestled amongst pine trees, stood a quirky little cafe aptly named Armor (ARabica Multi ORigin).
Featuring only the freshest coffee beans and tea leaves from the archipelago, Armor Kopi boasted of the best in Manual Brewing. The lads manning the counter also doubled as baristas, preparing concoctions in front of awed customers.
Though a coffee junkie, I already had a generous helping at breakfast that day. Instead, I egged my companions to sample Luwak. Arguably, it is the most expensive and perhaps, the most controversial of coffee varieties.
Kopi Luwak is coffee made from beans ingested and defecated by Asian palm civets. As explained by one of the baristas, civet cats eat only the best beans. These beans are further fermented with special stomach enzymes in the digestive tract of civet cats, thus resulting in a less acidic but smoother coffee taste.
I, on the other hand, took advantage of my mortal chance to enjoy a pot of the royally-acclaimed Silver Needle tea. Once served only to China’s Royal Imperial Family, these silver-tipped white tea leaves are harvested only once or twice a year.
Over Pisang Goreng and Rujak Cireng, popular Indonesian delicacies, I savoured my tea whilst my new-found friends raved on their coffee.
Situated on the foothills of Mt. Burangrang, Dusun Bambu stood as a testament for the Indonesians’ regard for family. Built as a retreat for the community to enjoy nature, culture and cuisine, it wasn’t just what I came there for; it was also what I found.
A tower of bamboo manned the entrance like a giant throne fashioned from swords. Further up, there were footbridges that cut across fields, up to a concrete road with bamboo archways. Up in the trees, dedicated dining rooms were cocooned inside what appeared to be huge birds nests.
The principles of Dusun Bambu resonated with me. It was able utilise nature in its architecture and integrate it into modern and practical aesthetics. It also succeeded in harnessing on Bandung’s Sundanese roots whilst transcending beautifully into the present-day Indonesia.
Saung Angklung Udjo
Perhaps, the organisers of our trip knew how to save the best last. I was already a bit knackered when our group was led to a small auditorium, filled to the brim with foreigners and locals alike. But my senses were awakened when the lady manning the till handed the audience necklaces with small angklungs (a bamboo musical instrument) as pendants. On the stage were a group of men playing traditional instruments before an array of puppets.
Soon after, we were treated to an entertaining series of cultural performances ranging from puppet shows to dances and songs from and by different Indonesian ethnic groups. My favourite however— and I’d bet, everybody else’s too— was Angklung Interactive, where each guest was given an angklung and we were collectively taught to play songs.
By the time the exercise concluded, I was on my feet, uber energetic to party with the crowd. It dawned on me right there and then, how entertainment strengthens unity and camaraderie amongst communities.
Admittedly, I was a little envious too. The performers of Angklung Udjo ranged from toddlers to septuagenarians— families, neighbours and friends. Outside, first-world factories peppered the city. But in that small auditorium, a culture as rich, as confident and as alive, thrived; and with certainty, will thrive.
A visit to Bandung won’t be without shopping. Ours was scheduled on a Sunday before flying out to Jogjakarta. But I was naughty and sneaked out for previews on Saturday night, to some hipster-ish boutiques run by local designers.
It turned out to be a good idea though, since Rumah Mode was packed the next day. I browsed, however, but did not end up buying anything. Instead, I sat with friends in a cafe fronting a small makeshift pond and had Iced Coffee.
Soon after, our other companions came out from the shops in throngs, with multiple shopping bags in tow. Maybe that meant they’ve scored good deals.
As I bade goodbye to the weekend, and to Bandung, I was comforted with pride that the best brands from all over the planet chose the craftsmanship of this small Indonesian city to clothe the rest of the fashion world.
Art, Culture and Nature — these comprise the trifecta from which the Indonesian city of Bandung stands firmly on. On the weekend I was there, those aforementioned elements stood apparent everywhere.
Bandung was the first stop in September 2016’s Trip of Wonders, an invitational trip for ASEAN travel influencers. It was hosted by the Ministry of Tourism of Indonesia. Opinions expressed in this post are my own and do not necessarily reflect the view of the Ministry.