Singkawang City – Hasn’t Moved On

Submitted by mumunmumun on 13 April 2014   •  Destination   •  Borneo

Tags: , ,

We had stepped out to face Singkawang City, a city up north of Pontianak, West Kalimantan. The streets were slow, dragons were playing, and people looked more like Vira than me. As we started to stroll around, we questioned, is the city just this slow or hasn’t it started? There were people having coffee in coffee shops, people pushing their cart of goods, cars seldom pass, and skinny muscular men lifting sacks of I-don’t-know-what on to trucks in the middle of town. I think I’ve just stepped back in the past of a town in China.

Singkawang City

In a glimpse, there’s nothing spectacular about Singkawang, especially outside of ‘Cap Go Meh’ season. There are no obvious tourist attractions, no tourism signs, just a typical small town somewhere in Kalimantan. Yet, there’s something about it that made the city a nice sight. It seems like time hasn’t changed much of the city, and with its highly Chinese influence, the city didn’t even seem to be part of Indonesia. Not of this century, at least.

“Why are you painting on the glass of a framed poster?” I disturbed an old artist at work.

“This is for a gift. It will become something like that.” He kindly took the time to stop working and pointed at a finished product. He didn’t smile and went back to work. As much as I felt wrong, I decided to ask another question.

“But why would you want to give someone a printed poster with its glass written on it?” Naturally, I couldn’t read what was written on it and I seriously had a dumbstruck face out of confusion.

“These framed pictures are painted with prayers. It’s actually sending a prayer to someone, like congratulating them or hoping they get well soon. Like sending flowers but more timeless,” he started smiling knowing I was genuinely curious. I replied in a big ‘Oh’.

Vira and I were standing in the doorway slash workshop of ‘Semoga’ store. ‘Semoga’ translates to hopefully (nope, it didn’t say what it’d hope for). I hadn’t known about this habit before. I’ve seen pictures written with prayers, but not on the glass that covered it. I think it’s a culture adapted from the Chinese people as it seems most of the people in Singkawang are Chinese descendants, known as Peranakan or Tionghoa. The man kept on working and I watched a little longer. It got me thinking; out of all the sophistication of gifts that we had then (2012), people still do this?

 Singkawang City - prayer artist

Tridharma Bumi Raya temple

Located in the middle of town, this temple is the oldest temple in Singkawang City. It is the center during the Cap Go Meh celebration, but we saw it without the fiasco. I couldn’t see anything special about the temple. It was like any other nice Chinese temples I had visited in my lifetime. The details, colors, smell on incense, were still what you’d typically see from a temple. Though, it might be a bit more colorful. So, I can’t really tell you anything impressive about it. I can, however, tell you that it’s located beside a huge mosque, which looked pretty significant. It was a nice contrast, but at the same time harmony, knowing there are still religious disputes among Indonesians even until today.

Singkawang City - Tridharma Bumi Raya Temple

‘Kawasan Tradisional’ Singkawang

We’ve asked people what to see in Singkawang. The locals referred us to areas outside of town like the local beaches or the main temple. Non-locals, or those that we’ve met pre-trip, can only say that Singkawang is worth the visit during Cap Go Meh. So, do we have a snooze?

A few random turns on the streets of Singkawang, we lead ourselves to this little village type complex. ‘Kawasan Tradisional’, or easily translates to traditional area, is a small housing cluster with traditional houses that dates back more than 100 years; or so one of the owners of the house said as he saw us coming through the gate. This complex has been maintained mostly as its original shape and function. Aside to the houses that are inhibited by close families, a function hall and a temple also resides in the middle of the complex. We wondered around without a guide just trying to figure things out ourselves, which is fun sometimes. With children playing in the wooden terraces and clothes left out to dry, it was easier to imagine life 100 years ago. It probably would have been similar. The past felt alive.

Singkawang City - Kawasan Traditional

The barber chair

“Is this chair for real? Do you still use it?” Both Vira and my face lit up seeing the old barbers chair embedded in a wooden booth just outside of the ‘Kawasan Tradisional’. The old men gathered at the hut beside the barber corner, chuckled figuring if we were kidding or not.

Asli! (real)” they all yelled laughing.

Singkawang City - the barber shop

We admired the chair more. I guess it was a common old barber chair, I just hadn’t been a barber girl or been to old barber shops to have known anything about it. A huge wooden-frame mirror was hung just on the wall, and there were little equipment on the table beneath it. A mix of old and young men sitting just outside of the stall were having an afternoon chat, which kinda makes sense to the whole ‘barber shop’ culture amongst men. It was vintage and rustic. I loved it. We, both, had a sit in the chair, were laughed at for being all happy about it, and bid farewell to the old men sitting in the hut. It was also our farewell to this old city.

If somebody asked me what to see in Singkawang, I would say, just see the city. It’s hard to pin point what to see exactly, when the ambiance of the town is its charm. The people also had this accent, which I superficially can only guess that it’s an adaptation from Chinese accents. It’s different. Singkawang made me feel like I was in old Hong Kong or something like it. I’ve never been to a small town in China but I’ve seen a few movies about it and Singkawang reminded me much of them. Whadya know? Turns out, they have a market called the Hong Kong Market. Ironically, this city used to be bustling with merchants, being the transit city of many gold miners and traders from China. Now, it’s just a quiet town. It might not be for those looking for excitement on any given day, but it might be right for those that want something different to the usual Indonesian appeal.

Singkawang City - Market people

Market people. Vira working extra cash.

The next day, we jumped on the car that brought us back in to the future. After three hours on the road, and in the face of larger roads and more cars of Pontianak, we asked our selves, where were we just now?

0 0 vote
Article Rating
Notify of
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
6 years ago

Slow streets, dragons playing? That must have been an amazing feeling to be there. This place is still on my bucket list, but I really hope to make it there soon.


[…] to each and every one of the temples. But as I said before, they must get the blessing from the Tri Dharma Bumi Temple, also known as Toa Pekong. These blessings must be obtained in a few days before Cap Go […]