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Monday, October 5, 2009

My Time in Medan (culinary and other delights)

I made it to Medan by bus from Berestagi in just under 2 hours.  I had explicit instructions from my Couchsurfing host, Andi, what to do next.  Got off at a certain stop, Padang Bulan (not sure if it's named after the earthquake region) and then took a moto-becak to a gym next to Universitas Prima.  Andi had to work till midnight that night, so he was having his friend Tiaz who lives a few houses away host me. 

Tiaz works as a chef of sorts at a gym, making food and drinks for the hungry and thirsty of the sweaty men who frequent the place.  It was pretty funny arriving into Medan via the Agy Gym -- I felt like I was in a gay male nightclub...  Now, it's just possible that that was not exactly the case, but there were serious vibes.  Could have been the music selection, just possibly.  Anyway, Tiaz felt obligated to feed and water me as I had missed dinner, and gave me some delicious chicken and tempeh he had cooked, and then made me a yummy shake from terong belanda -- a fruit I have never seen before.  For a photo of it, check out -- sorry, it's not in English, but you'll get the picture!

I then spent the night at Tiaz's lovely place after he closed up, met his livestock,

and then for a special treat he took me to the terrific public local fruit and veg etc market in the morning -- Pasar Petisah.  Since he buys all the ingredients for the cafe there, all the merchants know him really well and are pretty funny characters and enjoyed posing for photos and such. 


They of course thought it was bizarre that I would want to take photos of food, but humored me.  They teased Tiaz about how did he know me, and I heard the "just a friend" response in Bahasa Indonesia many times.  I imagine they're probably also wondering why *he's* not married, as that topic is far from inappropriate to delve into in Indonesia.  Tiaz also insisted I try a traditional breakfast food called "Lontong" which is hard to describe, but delicious:

We went back and dropped off the huge order of various fresh ingredients at Tiaz's gym, and then Tiaz insisted on making me a delicious tomato soup from scratch.  He also bought a "bika ambon" from the best place in Medan so that I could try it-- for more info see

If I had hung out with Tiaz for any longer I would have gained back any weight I lost from this trip!  Truly a great chef!  I told him to move to the Bay Area and open up a restaurant.

Next I met up with Andi, who was truly sorry he couldn't host me the night before.  He took me to the biggest Buddhist temple in Medan in really nice upscale (probably mostly Chinese) neighborhood, and it was there that I realized my camera had just conked out.  The mechanism that brings the lens in and out when you open and close the camera had been slowingggggggggggggggggggggg downnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn, and it just went kaput in Medan.  That was that.  Nothing could be done.  Tragic, but how much luckier than if it happened at the beginning of my Sumatra trip and then I wouldn't have been able to find a suitable camera at all for a while! 

There were some other places he wanted to show me but we kinda ran out of time.  We went driving to a mall among some other places with his foster mom, a really lovely woman who is apparently controlled by her husband who is crazily suspicious about her whereabouts and doings.  My heart ached for her as in the US we call this "abusive" -- but she had married him when she already had two daughters and could not afford to raise them as a single parent, so she was kind of trapped in the situation by her financial dependence.  I tried to tell her some nice things translated through Andi, as she only speaks Indonesian and Hokkien.  Most of the people of Chinese origin here speak Hokkien since I guess they came from the Fujian region, but really in general you would be surprised by the number of languages most people here speak.  Americans are damned spoiled by this English-dominated world!  Anyway, I was starting to realize that while most people think Medan is an absolute armpit, there are actually some very cool things to recommend it (other than the traffic jams) especially if you know someone there!   Yay for Couchsurfing!

Andi and Nur took me to the airport.  I later regretted having had to cut short my time with them, because as it turned out I was way early and didn't need to be there that early by any means and then had to kill some time.  I was over on my baggage, but the nice AirAsia personnel looked the other way and lied and said it was 15 kg on the baggage sticker.

An hour later I was back in Kuala Lumpur -- relative civilization, away from the whole Sumatran earthquake thing, but you know what?  Sumatra was really really amazing, despite the hardships!  I heartily recommend it to all intrepid travelers.  The people I met were absolutely wonderful and generous and kind and caring.  Once again, here's a plug for donating some money to the victims of the earthquake, who have absolutely nothing.  We are so lucky in our lives and don't even realize it most of the time. 

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