Stumble Into Indonesia's Unseen Places
Submitted by mumunmumun on 5 June 2019 • Destination
Once upon a weekend, I went to the home of Trinity Traveler, the first Indonesian travel blogger. She was in town, a rare occasion, and wasn’t traveling anytime soon. I made my way to her house addressing her eagerness for me to see Tanah Kusir cemetery. It did spark some joy to find out what lies beyond the dead. Knowing Trinity as a fun and outgoing person, I was game.
I had just arrived at her blue guest room, the same blue as the book cover poster of “The Trinity Traveler 4” hung just beside the entrance door. I hadn’t sat for 10 minute, she had prepared herself to go out. We walked west from her home and onto the cemetery grounds. It was the Chinese section. In Indonesia, public cemeteries are mostly clustered based on religion or ethnicity. Passing and asking permission to the dead, I saw lumps of grass topping the graves. “The Chinese are buried with their valuables, so the hole is really full,” she said. Chinese graves in the past are known to be dug up by thieves, looking for wealth buried with the dead. But now, Chinese graves are known to contain just valuables which aren’t really valuable to others. Or so I’ve been told.
Walking about 500 m, we crossed a bridge to the other side; the living. Here, numerous street food vendors align on the only road that can be passed by one car. “I have a route. You have to try this first,” she said as we headed south to a vendor selling ‘tahu gejrot’; tofu sogged in sweet savory spicy vinegar. We ordered two portions. I waddled to the concrete river bank and sat staring at the brown river.
“This used to be very dirty and always flooded during rainy season. Ahok—former Jakarta governor—had it cleaned, that’s why people here love him,” she continued, approaching with two clay plates of tofu.
She warned me not to eat it before she comes back with satay. It had been a while since I sat face to face with the reality of Indonesia’s capital, as that day. With my recent job surrounded by beautiful traditional item, squeaky clean marble floors, AC, and people of the higher end, I had felt a little too sterile from the Indonesia I know. Trash below my dangling feet (that is said to return ever since the ‘orange troops’ never came by to clean it again because Ahok was replaced), river banks covered with random grass and vines, and people in the back choosing between buying food, riding horses, or buying colorful chicks. In the distance, sky scrapers; the Jakarta most people would recognise.
Not long after, Trinity came with a bag of chicken skin and chicken intestine fried satay. Cholesterol on a stick? She’s trying to kill me! Or maybe not. She doesn’t know I haven’t been working out and these satay could be the end of me. Thinking I’ll go on a diet the next day (classic, I know), I chowed down the combination of savory, sweet, and spicy combo dish. The crunchy satay combined with soggy tofu was delicious as warm cake to ice cream. A perfect blend but different.
The satay had come from a cart equipped with its own fryer. Beside it was a box filled with items that were pretty mind-boggling. Apparently, in addition to the skin and intestine, there was the liver, gizzard, neck, butt, feet, and ‘fake’ eggs made of real eggs and flour, all on the stick. Trinity said, she was the only customer that didn’t buy fried neck. Being a nation that cherish all its food resources, Indonesians have mastered the art of eating the most of an animals, despite it being a source of heart attacks.
We continued the afternoon by passing a little waterhole where people were fishing and had picnics. On a more spacious land, couples, singles, family, and friends spend time with each other doing their thing. Soccer practice, flying kites, talking, accompanying their children on rented battery charged mini cars and playing with kinetic sand. Yes, that was the day I knew about kinetic sand that does not stick on anything except itself. The substance even have ASMR videos activities on YouTube. Wow! Just IDR5,000 to play with it. It felt like a park but a very chaotic one with no specific place to sit, play, or eat. And I have to mention, it wasn’t clean. Trash from food wrappings and plastic liquid containers were lying around. However, I have to admit, it’s not as bad as you think which probably made people want to hang out here.
Trinity then insisted we eat another satay because one seller on the list was missing that day. Agreeing, we walked to the next vendor filled with people. I would like to say they were in a line but it was more a swarm. Service comes to those closest to the women spooning the sauce. Beside the swarm was the satay grill. The sight of the protein made my heart skip a beat. Cow foot cartilage, chicken intestine and skin. Is Trinity trying to say something? Will I ever see the next meal of my life?
Fortunately, I don’t eat cow’s cartilage, so I could skip the transparent yellow cubes on a stick. With bismillah, I shared a portion of chicken skin with Trinity, dipped in peanut sauce. It was good. And I lived to see the next snack.
Specifically, Trinity said I had to try a mutual friend’s favorite cimol, fried tapioca flour made into balls and spiced with MSG. Not your healthy smoothie either. “It has to be from the yellow cart, not far from the satay seller,” she insisted. I sat and surrendered. She paced around a corner before convinced the one in front of her was the one she was looking for. She came back with a small bag. Crunchy oily savory warm snack in a plastic bag. And doubtful nutrition, if any. But it was sweet and savory, reminding me of childhood unlabeled snacks with a lot of MSG!
Ending the day, we ate something slightly healthier. Gemblong, made of glutinous rice flour, smothered in palm sugar caramel (I did say slightly), and tempe mendoan, thin soybean cake coated with batter and fried lightly. It was healthy enough for me to see another day. But it also made me think, people dig these kinda food on a daily basis. The middle lower class Jakartans especially, seem to ignore the fact that all of these snacks jeopardize their lives. Well, their playground is a cemetery. If anything, I wouldn’t wanna mess with the people here, I don’t think they fear death.
All afternoon, we talked about life. Of blogging (as usual), traveling, her book sales, and the future, which made me feel hopeful. Sadly, it is the end of her book series ‘Naked Traveler’, one of the many things that had fund her travels. So what is Trinity going to do next?
“I will still blog,” she said.
Glad to hear that the blog isn’t dying. “Now, I’m venturing into luxury adventure tours.” She’s eyeing into writing fiction but fate has yet to realize it. She still needs to complete her recent work after a residential program in Peru, tracking down stories of Indonesian priests and nuns that are assigned in South America. A story I really look forward to, especially with her sense of humor.
It was dark when we finally walked home, again through the Tanah Kusir Cemetery. We had to constantly step aside for the motorbikes passing, as the road chosen that afternoon apparently is a ‘public’ road. It was a lot of fun, I would love to repeat it. I also said hello to my friend along the way, who is buried not too far. Turns out, one can travel to Tanah Kusir Cemetery and still have fun!