Tag Archives: Bandung

The Sliced Bread Time Machine

Time is relative, so they say. Bandung, the capital of West Java, Indonesia, seems to exist in two dimensions of time, parallel universes. The modern, polluted, busy, overcrowded industrial city with a sprawling urban population of over eight million inhabitants – Here, the main attractions for plane loads of local and international tourists are the numerous clothing factory outlets. If you own any clothing “Made in Indonesia”, that most likely means, “Made in Bandung”. There are more than three hundred textile industries here. Bandung is also home to hundreds of pharmaceutical factories, as well as a high-tech aircraft industry, and numerous universities. Then there is the other Bandung, the place that time has forgotten. A place of nostalgia, a living museum. Braga Street, the heart of this time capsule, is the place which historically gave Bandung the pseudonym “Paris van Java”, “The Paris of the East”. During the Dutch colonial era, this was the meeting point of the colonial plantation owners and workers. Barga Street was lined with high society shops, theatres, cafes and nightclubs. Even Charlie Chaplin performed here.

New street signage being installed, Braga Street, Bandung. West Java.

On my recent visit, the city was busily sprucing itself up for the upcoming Asia Africa Conference. The original conference took place in 1955, a time to discuss the cold war and the ending of colonialism across developing nations. This upcoming conference in April 2015, will see many world leaders congregate here once more.

Navigating my way around the broken footpaths and piles of ready to be laid pavers, I entered Sumber Hidangan, a local Dutch style bakery that first opened its doors in 1929, and hasn’t changed since. This easy time travel seemed to have no physical effects, I didn’t go through any gravitational vortexes or worm holes as in a science fiction film, all I had to do was cross the threshold. But time travel it was. This was the antithesis of mass market production. Light filtered through into the dimly lit space. The dusty wooden floorboards creaked as I entered the high ceilinged store. Peeling paintwork barely clung to the walls. Custom built glass cabinets, also with a layer of dust, displayed trays of fluffy white bread. Glass jars stacked artfully with traditional Dutch biscuits. Signage advertising the wares were in both Dutch and English. The ‘antique’ scales; a cash register and oven that have not been replaced since its opening. Even the staff were ancient.

Sumber Hidangan, old Dutch style bakery. Bandung, Indonesia.
Fresh hand sliced bread, ready for sale.
Traditional Dutch style biscuits in glass display jars, Sumber Hidangan, Bandung.

The smell of freshly baked bread teased me, and the glass jars filled neatly with treats caused my eyes to widen. But I was here to show my group my favourite thing about this store – the bread slicer. I approached the counter. To my dismay, the group of ladies in their starched pink aprons informed me that she had gone home for the day. Yes, the bread slicer is a person, no modern technology here. I had been here before when they were quite busy, with several bread slicers skilfully dividing the fluffy fresh loaves into precise slices. My disappointment must have been visible – the friendly ladies proposed if I buy a loaf, they could slice it for me. As I was keen to show my group, I agreed. They only had one variety of bread left this late in the afternoon, the Continental Milk Bread – made with eggs and full cream milk, the sign read. A loaf was selected, and one of the uniformed ladies began to masterly and evenly slice away. Perfect, with just a fraction of a millimetre left intact to hold the loaf together. She then suggested that I didn’t really need to buy it, that they could place it on the shelf with the others on display. They had gone to the trouble of slicing it for me, and it looked fresh and velvety. The ingredients printed on the sign suggested it had few preservatives, unlike the local commercial breads. I would like to try. She then briskly wrapped the loaf in brown paper while another woman neatly hand-wrote out my receipt for 10,500 Rupiah (approximately 80 US cents). This was in turn handed to the cashier seated behind a metal security cage. After our transaction, my group bought a few of the pastries, then we returned through the wormhole to the bustling modern street outside.

The bread slicer, Sumber Hidangan Bakery. Bandung, Indonesia.
Fresh sliced bread!

Sumber Hidangan is located at 20-22 Jalan Braga, Bandung. West Java. Indonesia.


A Music Lesson in West Java

Many years ago when I first started learning Indonesian, I found a set of rather curious Indonesian language cassette tapes (remember them) in a thrift shop in Sydney. They were recordings of simple stories on an odd collection of subjects: the weather in Japan, New Year’s Eve in Scotland, the life history of an Australian pop star, and the story of Pak Udjo and his angklung music school in Bandung, West Java. I listened to these tapes repeatedly until I could understand every word and turn of phrase. The last line reminding me, that if I ever had the opportunity to visit Bandung, be sure to visit Pak Udjo.

For many years our trips in Java just passed trough Bandung, we transferred from the train station to the local bus station, with no time to stop in between. I was delighted, when a change of itinerary now included an overnight stop in Bandung, along with the inclusion of a performance at Angklung Udjo.

Angklung is a bamboo musical instrument made from a series of bamboo tubes, that when shaken produce a single warm tone. It is a traditional Sundanese (the ethnic group of West Java) instrument, that is also popular all over Indonesia, and its neighbors. I refer to it as ‘the recorder of Indonesia’, in that (like the recorder), it is simple to learn, and most school kids in Indonesia will have their first music lessons on this instrument. In 2010 UNESCO added the angklung to the representative list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Anklung Udjo Foundation began in 1966 by the late Udjo Ngalagena and his wife Uum Sumiati, with the aim of preserving the cultural Heritage of the Sundanese. The foundation is continued today by their son. The school offers free classes for children from the surrounding villages where they can learn music, dance, singing, and public speaking. The children have the opportunity to preform in the daily cultural performance presented to tourists, earning them a little pocket money into the bargain.

Master angklung maker at work. Bandung, Indonesia

I have now visited Anklung Udjo several times, and am always impressed. The show’s format is a little cheesy, not unlike a daytime TV variety show; but it’s such a celebration of joy, my groups can’t help but love it too. There’s the charming, sometimes funny bilingual presenter, a puppet performance, some cute dancing and singing kids, and the angklung. The performers and presenter are different each time, so a variety of children have a turn performing to an audience, but the basic show remains the same.

One of the highlights is the music lesson – Angklung instruments are distributed to the audience, and following our host and teacher, we learn to play some simple tunes together. I am glad to be lost in the musical crowd. As a child I overheard at my kindergarten concert someone commenting that I couldn’t sing in tune, and have been musically scarred since. I was once unhappily described as been ‘as musical as a door’. Back at school, we learnt the recorder but my playing was always screechy and out of tune. Music wasn’t my thing. I stuck to listening. Being handed an anlklung, amongst the masses was a great relief … How could I go wrong with just one note? I had the freedom to make music without fear.

Angklung studio. Bandung, Indonesia

As beginners we only have to play one anklung. The professional musicians have about 50 rigged up together and pluck them expertly like a piano keyboard. One note is enough for me. This version of the angklung has been adapted from the pentatonic scale of the original to a, more pleasing to the Western ear, eight note scale. Our host / teacher / conductor is the son of the founder, and has a syrupy warm voice, not unlike the warm sound that the angklung produces. He jokes with us, as we learn some basic harmonies, directing us with a series of hand signals – each representing the note numbers on our respective angklung. We joyfully laugh as we play. Today the audience has visitors from all over Indonesia, Oman, England, Holland, Ireland, Korea, and Australia; a quiet day. The tunes become longer and more difficult we slowly master the simple action of shaking at the correct time. We play uncomplicated children’s songs, that seem familiar to all nationalities present, then some more popular Pop songs – Including ‘We are the Champions’ by Queen, as indeed, we all thought we were.

Eventually, we reluctantly return our instruments as they are collected by the children. Our host askes us “How do we feel?” “HAPPY!” is the unanimous reply. He then explains that this is his father’s legacy. The intention of his father: that by having fun, playing music together, even tough we are from different cultures and backgrounds, will bring understanding, harmony and world peace. I wholeheartedly second those sentiments. So to quote my recoded Indonesian lesson – if you ever have the opportunity to visit Bandung, be sure to visit Pak Udjo.