Malang – East Java

April 2011

A rutted road that twists and drops to rice fields below. There are no guardrails. Our van teeters, brushed to the right by a truck traveling the opposite way, the wheels searching for stability in the shoulder. A motorcycle skitters along the gutter and passes us in the rain.

In May 2006, mud flowed from a natural gas drilling site and has continued to flow, causing landslides and the closure of the Porong-Gempol road. The detour from Surabaya to Malang is arduous.

Malang’s history dates back to the Mataram Kingdom. When the Dutch colonized Indonesia, it became a European tourist destination. Cool air greets us at the higher elevations where views of Mount Arhuna and Mount Bromo are spectacular. At sea level, the beaches benefit from a breeze off the Indian Ocean.

Much of the Dutch colonial architecture remains intact in the heart of the city. By contrast, shantytowns line the rivers and railway tracks. In between, there is an affluent Chinese community. Homes are walled and very private. The Chinese are savvy collectors and deal in antiques that are pricey and rare.

Leaving Malang, we stop at the compound of a hoarder. There is no other word for this man who collects anything and everything stacked in monumental piles that extend into rafters, nooks and crannies. Among the old Dutch furniture and pieces of art are animated carvings made-for-tourists prior to World War II. Comically grotesque, these fantastic creatures retell the Hindu myths with haunting clarity. Whimsical gods with gaping eyes and open mouths performing awkward activities sidetrack us from what we came to buy – old Dutch iron gates and windows.

Dusk becomes dark and there are torrential rains. We wade in water to our ankles past the hoarder’s wife who sits on a stool and watches a wall-mounted TV. Rats run the inside perimeter. They screech in a chorus. I wonder, do rats sing?

We purchase a sampling of iron with a promise we will return on our next Indonesian visit. It’s the rats that have inspired us to hit the road. We escape into the night through a maze of ruts and ditches.

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