It was fairly standard Sunday. Went to church at 8 AM. My host family picked me up at 11 AM. We drove around a neighborhood near to ours in search of Turkish kebabs (which are, unfortunately, nothing like real Turkish kebabs. They’re something like a sad fajita). We didn’t find said Turkish kebabs, so we returned home.
It was at this point in time, where we were almost ready to get out of the car, that someone called my host mom.
“Hello? Oh yeah, yeah, oh yeah Euis (my Indonesian name)? Oh yeah. She can.” She briefly put the phone down and said, “Your host cousin wants to take you to Medan next weekend. Do you want to go?”
I said the only logical thing to say: “Wait, what?”
“Oh yes, she can!” My host mom said, turning back to the phone.
“Wait Bunda what’s happening?” The confused American in the backseat said.
And that, my friends, is the story of how I very quite spontaneously ended up going to Medan.
Now, for my geographically ignorant/challenged Americans, Medan is in northern Sumatra.
To help you out:
Do you see that large red arrow? Now you know where Medan is.
My host cousin (of sorts) works in the military. They move him around every couple of years. He’s been in Medan for the last few years, and they just told him he was moving to Bandung. So his wife, my other host cousin, wanted to visit him before he left. And she invited me out of the goodness of her heart.
After a 2 hour flight, we arrived in Medan, where my host cousin picked us up from the airport. We went and ate breakfast.
Indonesia is unique in that each city is different. I noticed while eating breakfast that Medan-ites were very loud. They talked over one another. They were still friendly, though, like all Indonesians are.
After breakfast, we went to my host cousin’s office and chilled in the lobby for a little bit, then drove to his little house. After a couple hours there, we decided to go eat food at a mall.
It was really interesting to me. I live in Java, which is predominantly Muslim. You don’t see people wearing shorts or revealing clothes. But sitting in a cafe in the mall, I saw a lot of shorts, crop tops, you name it. It was a bit of a shock to me, since I thought that all of Indonesia was like Java.
Then again, this was my first trip outside of Java in 5 or so months.
After eating at the mall, we went to another restaurant to eat.
I think one of the Indonesian people’s mantras is “Makan terus”. That means, “Eat again.”
Indonesians. Are. Always. Eating. And that certainly proved to be true with my host cousins in Medan.
At this restaurant, however, my host cousin’s friends threw him a belated birthday and farewell party. It was really sweet.
The next day, we decided to go swim in a river in the kampung (countryside) with some of the friends I had met the night before.
They had quite the little business deal going on. People rented spots for people to sit at. They had little cafes and tube rentals.
We rented one tube and took turns going down the river a ways. A couple of people and I tried to cross the river but decided that the current was too strong and the rocks too slick.
We played for an hour or two and then decided to go. Someone casually mentioned bathing in the river (which I had seen a couple of random strangers do), but it was dismissed just as quickly.
Although I haven’t come up with a bucket list for my exchange, I spontaneously decided that bathing in a river was on it.
So I asked, “Actually, can we bathe here?” My comrades were like, “??? Ok, I suppose.”
(note that, this being a conservative country, bathing in a river = washing hair in a river)
So yes, now I can say that I have bathed in a river in Indonesia.
My third day in Medan, we went to Istana Maimoon, or Maimoon, or Maimoon Palace. Medan is technically a sultanate and still has a sultan, but it is under the Indonesian government. So the sultan is pretty much just a sultan in name, and actually lives in Makassar (on Sulawesi, another island) with his mother. He’s 17.
Before I went to Medan, my host mom insisted that I dress up in traditional royal clothes when at Istana Maimoon. So my host cousin and I complied:
And took some artistic shots, if you will.
Next, we went down the street to the Grand Mosque of Medan.
Immediately upon entering the grounds, a man came up to us and declared himself our tour guide. He gave us interesting tidbits of information, such as the fact that the mosque was actually built by a Christian and there was a graveyard behind the mosque filled with sultans and their relatives.
Later that night, we went to another restaurant (makan terus, remember?) and ate Chinese food. We were in Medan just before Chinese New Year (you sit back in shock and realize how very late this blog post is. Sorry), so there were a lot of decorations around town. Medan being closer to mainland Asia has more citizens with Chinese descent, so they go more all out than other places in Indonesia.
The next day, we checked into a hotel. Although I don’t actually know the reason for this, I think it was because we wanted to go swimming. So besides relaxing, that’s what we did at the hotel.
After swimming, we went out and ate dinner. At 10 PM, we decided to leave.
“Well,” says Ruth, “time to head back. It’s pretty late.”
The Indonesians, however, are possessed by a very different idea.
“Let’s go eat durian. The durian here is very good.”
Durian at 10 PM?
“It’s late,” Ruth insists.
“Oh nonsense. The only time durian is sold is at night.”
I had been dreading this moment for my entire exchange. That and impatiently waiting to get it over with.
If you don’t know what durian is, it is nicknamed the “king of fruit”. It has a lethal scent (10x worse than B.O.) and an equally repulsive flavor. The first time I tried it was in my kitchen in America. My brother is a fruit fanatic and gathered together family and friends to eat durian he bought.
Everyone (except for my brother and one of his friends) was disgusted. I remember wanting to puke.
Back to Indonesia.
We pulled over at a random side-of-road durian shop and sat down at a little plastic table.
One of the men cracked open a durian for us and sat it on the table. Its pungent smell wafted to my nose.
My comrades looked at me.
“Try it.” They said.
“Uh, you guys try it first.” I replied. They shrugged and each took a piece. They started eating it like no problem.
It probably took me a minute or two before taking a piece. It took me another minute to be brave enough to eat it.
Not vomit worthy, but not a pleasant flavor.
I took a grand total of three bites. I looked at my comrades, who were on their third piece.
“Why do you like it?” I asked them.
“It tastes good.” They shrugged.
It was definitely an interesting experience, eating the king of fruit at 10:30 PM. After two durians, we headed back to the hotel, where we crammed six people into a room intended for two.
The last day in Medan was spent packing and resting before waiting at the airport for five hours (we had a delay).