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Main Article: Indonesia Tour, Summer 2008

Padang, West Sumatra, Indonesia

Visiting West Sumatra has been a truly unique and wonderful experience: the people, the city, the natural beauty, the weather, the culture, the food – all wonderful. 

All manner of modes of transportation exist here in Padang, from horse and buggy, to cars, vans and small SUVs, Jeeps and Toyotas, to fancy cars, Mercedes, with dark-tinted windows.  There are several popular modes of public transportation, the bus kota, angkot, ojek and bendi.  The city bus, or bus kota, is a regular city bus, but always brightly colored, and often with large cartoons painted on their sides.  Angkot, a more popular form of public transportation, are reminiscent of the volkswagon bus, and are brightly colored, often with many advertisements in large lettering on the sides, nearly always playing loud European or American music, with people hanging out the sides of the windows of the fullest angkot.  Ojek reflect the most popular way of getting around Padang city: by motorbike.  Each ojek typically carries one or two passengers, but private family motorcycles can often be seen with three, four, and even five passengers, basically carrying entire families on two wheels.  Perhaps the most traditional form of public transportation is the bendi, the horse and cart.  You can also see people carrying goods for sale on their heads and in gerobek (pushcarts) that are sometimes connected to bicycles.

Imam Bonjol Court marks one of the City Centers, with a large open soccer field, and marked by a rumah gadang, Minang Big House, on one end of the field.  Many ceremonies and presentations are held in the court, as well as public fairs and sporting competitions.  The Central Market in Padang City lies right next to Imam Bonjol Court, and nearby to many of the cities governmental offices, including Kantor Walikota Padang, the Office of the Mayor.  Many other governmental offices and buildings have headquarters spread throughout Padang, and governmental offices such as Kantor Gubernor Sumatera Barat, the DPR office, and the government offices for finance, corporations, police, municipal construction and the department of transportation.  The open-air Central Market extends for several blocks in either direction, and is the main place for merchants to sell all sorts of wares and fresh fruits and vegetables.  Several hotels are located nearby, including the Bumiminang Hotel and Ambacang Hotel.  Traveling Northwest of the Center of town lies Minang Plaza, a large mall, on the main road which runs toward Tabing, some outer villages, and the Minang Airport.  One of the main throughways along the coast is Deponegoro Street, which runs by the Taman Budaya Cultural Park, where Pekan Budaya Sumatera Barat 2008 was held.

The landscape here is beautiful, with the ocean only a few minutes walk from the center of town in one direction, and the mountains within about 10km from some of the main roads in the other direction.  Several canals and tributaries flow from the mountains down to the ocean, and are accompanied by paved roads and walkways on either side, for easy access by foot or by car both to the ocean and to the hills.  Once you travel a bit outside of the center of town, in the villages, minang water buffalo roam the streets and fields, as well as cats 'kucing,' dogs 'anjing,' goats 'kambing,' chickens and roosters 'ayam.'  The land is very fertile for rice, sugar cane, and other crops, as well as the naturally growing coconut palms and banana trees.  In the mornings the villagers can literally walk outside and pick their breakfast out of the treetops.  In some places the vegetation still grows wild, hiding large lizards like the 'biawak,' and many species of tropical birds.  Many of the villages by the water are fishing villages, and the colorful fleets of fishing boats on the shore stand out among palm trees that grow all the way to the water's edge.  

Weather patterns often come with mist and clouds down from the mountains, and can be seen from a distance when looking to the northeast.  In the city the rain can often be heard coming from a distance by the sound of raindrops on the rooftops.  When it rains, often it rains hard and sometimes the rain comes down in sheets and buckets.  Driveways in the area are built several inches, sometimes a foot, above the street level, to prevent flooding and allow the water to run off into the street.  The city itself has small canals and gutters running along the main streets to allow for runoff in the rainy season.  When it's sunny it's beautiful, although it can get scorching hot, even in the shade, by 10 or 11am.  After the rains the clouds allow for beautiful rainbows, as well as gorgeous red and orange sunsets over the ocean.  But watch out for the omnipresent mosquitos: natural remedies like tea tree oil come highly recommended for keeping the bugs away and for soothing itchy skin in case you were too late putting it on.  The Indonesian version of this natural remedy can be found as 'minyak kayu putih,' an oil from the leucadendron tree, one of the many remedies of 'jamu,' Indonesian herbal medicine.

And the food in Padang is one of a kind.  With all of the tropical fruit in the region, the mango and avocado juices are not to be missed.  You'll find lots of other exotic fruits too, like the durian, rambutan, and others, but be careful if you have allergies.  The staple food is mainly rice, which can be served at three meals a day.  Traditional minang food at restaurants is served family style, with an array of dishes laid out on the table for all to share.  Instead of giving you a menu of choices, the waiters and waitresses simply bring every option to your table, each in its own dish.  Since the traditional way of eating is with hands alone, bowls of water are brought to each spot at the table.  You can find complete meals in the restaurants too, with favorites such as nasi goreng and nasi remas.  And the food is spicy – even the 'normal' style Kentucky Fried Chicken comes fried with curry.  The hot chilis are the ones to watch out for if you're sensitive to spices.  Fried bananas, corn pudding, and coconut milk pudding all make for tasty desserts, along with more western style cakes and pastries.

A word of caution to those visiting friends in the city: beware the recent rolling blackouts that can occur up to three or four times a day without warning.  There's nothing quite like getting caught in the 'suds/lather' phase of your shower when the electricity, and running water, go off for what is normally a period of about two hours. 

And last but not least, the Minang culture itself is one of the main attractions of the region.  It has been preserved over the centuries, one of the oldest and largest matrilineal societies in the world.  The matrilineal society is upheld by rules and norms known as 'adat.'  Chief among these principles is that 'nature is the best teacher.'  Ownership and property are passed from one generation to the next from mother to daughter, and after a wedding, it is typical for the man to become part of the woman's family.  In the center of Padang city, houses are typically single-family, but as you travel outside the city to the villages, oftentimes two or more generations live under the same rooftop.  Even further outside the city, that rooftop takes on the traditional Minang architectural style, with pointed eaves in a pattern reminiscent of the horns of a buffalo.  This type of house is called a 'rumah gadang' or 'big house' and is often occupied by several generations in one family.  The architectural style of the Minang can also be seen in the major governmental offices throughout Padang city, as well as on other buildings, hotels, and even small shops by the side of the road. 

At the same time, the Minang community is largely Muslim, and since the 6th century, the Minang 'adat' has been coupled with 'adab' in a very unique weaving of cultures.  The combination of 'adab' and 'adat' lends itself to the very natural way of life of the Minangkabau.  The societal norms encourage the people to be open, friendly, and welcoming to all, and the Minangkabau are known worldwide for their hospitality.  Also, since the community is largely muslim, in many places around Padang city, you can hear the 'call to prayer' 5 times a day, beginning with dawn around 5:30 or 6am, continuing through noon and afternoon, sunset at about 6:30 year-round, and the night prayer about an hour later.

The Minang culture is known also for its beautiful arts and dress, and its unique styles of dance, music, theater, traditional martial arts.  The horns of the water buffalo are even incorporated into traditional dress, in the form of headdresses with the shape of horns on top.  Musicians, dancers, and theater performers all wear the traditional dress while performing.  Even dancers with the most elaborate headdresses can still move evenly and gracefully with their hands full of plates with lit candles on them.  This is the traditional 'Tari Piring' or 'Tari Piriang' dance, that is even performed in bare feet on plates of broken glass.  Amazingly, the dancers do not get hurt while performing in this way.  Children learn the dance, music, and arts from a young age, and the elders in the region are intent on preserving the beauties of the arts and culture for future generations, and to share with the rest of the world.  Children also train in the ways of Silat Tuo Minang, the traditional comprehensive system of movement from the region.  Silat Tuo Minang encompasses martial arts, as well as traditional physical therapy and traditional theater and some traditional dance styles.  The theater, Silat Randai, is performed in a circular setting, and the actors wear the traditional black uniform with gold cords of Silat players.  The theater, as well as the dance, are accompanied by traditional Minang music.  Some Minang instruments, such as the talempong, are also found in other styles of Indonesian Gamelan.  Others are unique to West Sumatra, like the Minang flute, the 'saluang,' which has a lilting and beautiful sound.  For more pictures and showcases of Minang culture, please visit other pages on this site, included the pages documenting the Pekan Budaya Cultural Festival held in Padang, West Sumatra, in early July 2008.


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July 14th, 2008 by Staff

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