After these first 4 days in Bandung, it is still difficult for me to adequately describe our experiences, thus far.
Therefore, I’m going to start by taking the easy route, showing off my Google skills, and sharing some quick facts about Bandung:
- Located in the western part of the island of Java, about 3 hours from Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital.
- Founded in 1488
- Approximately 2.6M people within a 65 sq. mile area. In contrast, Seattle has about 650K people in a 143 sq. mile area. Bandung is the 3rd largest Indonesian city (by population).
- The Average Monthly Salary is 2,940,000 Rp. This is roughly $224 or what many of us spend on Cable, Internet, and Cell bills. Click here if you’re curious to see more cost of living info.
- The majority of the people in Bandung are Sundanese.
For those that are more visual, we recently found this guy named Kyle Le on YouTube. He primarily blogs about Vietnam (and food!), but he recently spent a couple days in Bandung. Check out this vid: Indonesia Shopping and Street Food in Bandung City.
What you see in Kyle’s video is pretty accurate in terms of the general chaos (by American standards) that exists in the city streets. Signs of varying size, shape, quality, and state of disrepair advertise everything from the familiar (Ace Hardware, KFC, and Pizza Hut), to the unfamiliar (innumerable food carts occupy every available inch of ground; even blocking larger, more established shops), to the unusual (DMV? No problem! Just buy your custom-made license plate on the side of the street).
This visual cacophony is eclipsed only by the aural cacophony created by the way-too-many cars, motorcycles, minibuses, and people on the road at any given time. The ever-present hum of engines, brakes, and horns are akin to TEN Times Squares. To simply say, however, that the roads are really loud would do this daily motor-ballet a serious injustice.
Our host, Wally, says that traffic laws around here (heck, even traffic lanes for that matter) are little more than “guidelines.” Ultimately, the social contract between motorists and pedestrians alike is that it is acceptable to do whatever ever it takes to get from Point A to Point B as long as you agree to constantly watch out for the safety of your fellow travelers. Everyone must be present, aware, and very much in the moment to ensure that major road catastrophes are avoided. There’s something really beautiful about that dynamic to me. It’s hard to imagine anyone doing that zoned-out, zombie thing during rush hour around here like I’ve done more than a few times while slogging through I-405 commutes.
Speaking of those motorcycles/scooters, I’m not only struck by how many there are on the road at any given time, but also by how many people can ride together on a single machine. One rider is the norm, two riders are common, three or more riders are far from unusual. We often see entire families on a single motorcycle weaving in and out of traffic. I tried to convince Laura that we could save a ton of money by taking a similar approach back home; she was having none of it (shocking!).
The food here has been incredible, so far. We haven’t been too adventurous, yet, but it’s not like we’ve actively shied away from anything either. We’re all fans of what the locals deem staples here–Nasi Goreng (fried rice), Mie Goreng (fried noodles), Bubur Ayam (rice porridge with chicken), and Nasi Udok (rice with coconut milk)–and we’re just getting started.
We even had a special treat today, as we were invited to have Lunch in the family home of Ibu Josie for a special meal, called Tumpeng. We were gathering to celebrate Josie and her mother’s safe return after 3 weeks of traveling in France and The Netherlands. Above and beyond the great food, however, was the hospitality shown by Josie, her family, and her friends. We laughed often and the general ease of our hosts reminded me of parties with my own family back home (sans ukuleles and endless singing, of course). Definitely my kind of people!
I realize that this blog post has been long and somewhat meandering. So, I’ll wrap things up by quickly commenting on the people. The majority of the locals whom we’ve met have been extraordinarily warm and friendly. From the people in random nooks and crannies of the narrow neighborhood alley ways, to the chain store employees, to the parking lot attendants and unofficial traffic “facilitators,” to the guys at the coffee shop who knew less English than I know Indonesian, to Ibu Josie and her family, everyone has been genuinely excited about the fact that we’re here from half a world away to learn about them, their culture, and their city.
While I still am far from certain how the coming weeks in Indonesia will unfold, I am definitely excited by the possibilities. Here’s hoping that as we learn more, we’ll be able to find a way to help and serve as well.