Thursday, January 15, 2004

Sojourn to Semarang

Sojourn to Semarang

My education of Java would not be complete if I do not visit Semarang, so I took the Argo Bromo Anggerek this morning to the capital of Central Java. It was also the only suitable train journey that I could take given my time limitation this week. I plan to be back in Jakarta on Saturday.

It is usually a five-and-a-half hour journey by Argo Bromo Anggerek train to Semarang. The train goes all the way to Surabaya--Pekalongan and Semarang are the only two stops along the way. Today the train started on time at 9.20am and arrived an hour late: 3.50pm. Still there was sufficient time for me upon arrival to wander around the old city of Semarang and find a suitable Internet cafe.

Usually no tourist would visit Semarang as there's nothing much of interest here. Bali, Lombok, Lake Toba and Yogjakarta are the popular destinations for tourists. But Semarang is an important commercial port on the north coast of Central Java; it is also among the most Chinese cities in Indonesia. I have many Indonesian Chinese friends who come from Semarang. I am also told there are many old Dutch buildings here.

That was excuse enough for me to take the train journey to Semarang. The train ride itself was worth taking on its own. The stretch from Pekalongan to Semarang was especially picturesque: there the rail-tracks hugged the coastline and one could see through one's window, waves crashing into the rocks below. Elsewhere scenes of rice, corn and onion fields, felicitous under the noon-day sun, stretched out into the distance.

The train sliced through a few rivers on its approach to the sea where murky brown flows merged with the clear salt water of the sea. Seaside villagers waved to the passing train and when the train reached Semarang, I wished I could take the ride all the way to Surabaya.

But I have been to Surabaya a few of times before--Semarang is the remaining big city on Java island that I haven't visited. Upon arrival at the station, I took a becak (in Solo, most of the becaks are painted red but here they go for light blue) ride to a hotel on the edge of the old city of Semarang.

The new center of Semarang is in Simpang Lima, further south. Semarang doesn't have the Javanese charm of Solo or Yogjakarta but I am determined to penetrate its essence. There's much to do tomorrow and I intend to make the most of my brief sojourn to Semarang.

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