The Gangs of Indonesia

Guaranteed you thought I was going to write about bunches of hoodlums that are, occasionally, found in some of the streets in the big cities of Indonesia. Sorry to disappoint you. Rather, I was referring to the small laneways, alleys and narrow streets in Indonesia that are referred to as gangs in Bahasa Indonesia. In whatever city or town you are visiting, and, if you are the adventurous and explorer type, then these gangs often yield some delightful surprises and give you an insight into the normal daily life of the Indonesian people. It’s amazing how often I have struck up a conversation with one of the locals only to find out about a place that isn’t listed in any guidebooks. These include restaurants, warungs and even artisans that ply their trade in their own backyard producing high quality pieces of merchandise far better than you would buy in the main streets or shops. I can recall one very hot day in the Chinese quarter of Semarang when I came across a tailor (penjahit) sitting at his old Singer sewing machine on the front porch of his house. He noticed the beads of perspiration on my brow and beckoned me to sit in the shade with him, rest and talk. His wife even brought out food and water for me.

Of course it’s only natural that one doesn’t walk down these gangs late at night for obvious reasons. However, it is the interesting places that you discover that make a journey worthwhile. A conversation struck up will yield friendships and not only that, the opportunity to become a part of the daily life of the locals in the town. One strange particular night in Yogyakarta I was walking home late to my losmen and decided to take a shortcut down a gang only to be confronted by two women, who were, how can I put it, ladies of the night (kupu-kupu malam). Although I never utilised their ‘services’, over time the three of us became good friends and I ended up teaching them enough English so as to communicate with other travellers or tourists. Gangs are probably the most interesting parts of a city. In Medan I even found an old stone well at the rear of a house still being used by the occupants. And yes, the water was cold and refreshing although I didn’t drink it. It’s these little surprises that make a journey delightful in my opinion. But, the best of all is finding those street stalls (kaki lima) and little warungs that serve the local delicacies the greatest.