Surprises in Semarang

The Indonesian Heritage Society is my gateway to new and interesting experiences all over Indonesia. Such as last week, when we took the train to Semarang, a city planned by the Dutch in North Central Java, ostensibly on a shopping trip for ceramics. We took the long but scenic route via train, a 6-hour comfortable ride past Javanese towns, rice fields, and even bits of the coast.

Semarang 1

From the station, we were transported by becaks (cycle rickshaws) straightaway to the Sango Ceramics Factory Outlet to spend a glorious afternoon shopping (think 15 women, factory outlet).Semarang 6

So engrossed were we, picking out dinner sets and other things we didn’t need that I, for one, didn’t even think of taking a photo in there. Of course, with my history of breaking stuff in shops, all dangling things were safely tucked away.

My friend, Sara, donated her photo to this post:

Factory outlet

It only tells a part of the story; there were 3 enormous shops, and I may have walked 5 km within.

The reward for spending all that money was a super-elegant dinner filled with gifts and surprises, organised by James, our tour leader.

 

 

 

There was a full day of sightseeing thrown in, the following day. A real eye-opener. I had imagined Semarang to be a boring industrial town. Industrial it is, boring not. There’s a rich history of colonial, Chinese and Javanese heritage, surprisingly well-preserved, and a delight to behold. We spent an intensely ‘spiritual’ day, starting with the great Masjid Agung, then the protestant Blenduk Church, a Buddhist temple, and finally a Chinese temple, punctuated by a tour of Museum Jamu Nyonya Meneer and Lawang Sewu (Thousand Doors) – the old Railroad Office.

The Masjid might have been more interesting had we been able to enter the main prayer hall, or seen the large umbrellas opened (a unique feature of this mosque), but we wanted to stay on track with our ambitious agenda, and had little time to stop and stare.

Lawang Sewu is rumoured to be haunted, but apparently the ghosts stay away in broad daylight. There’s a beautiful stained glass window to be admired, and the climb to the roof is rather thrilling.

Our group was starting to wilt under the extremes of the sun and rain, when we arrived at Sam Poo Kong, our last spot before heading to the airport. This is the oldest Chinese temple that was originally established by the Chinese explorer, Zheng He, during the 15th century. It was destroyed and renovated several times since then, and now has a fresh coat of bright red paint, guaranteed to energize the most jaded tourist.

Great planner that James is, he arranged for all our ceramics shopping to be shipped directly to Jakarta, while we travelled light. The goodies are home already, and we’ve created space for more dinner plates, snack plates, serving bowls and platters like they belonged there forever!

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