Longing for Old Sundanese Authenticity in Parijs van Java

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Parijs van Java (Photo credit: Panji Nugnugroho)

A local historian in Bandung was upset to find out some people call the capital of West Java “Paris van Java”. Nonsensical, he said. If you wrote it in Dutch, then it goes like this: Parijs van Java. But if you prefer English, Paris of Java sounds more sensible. I laugh at this. This historian sounds more like me, a writer who goes mad whenever an erroneous piece of text is spotted.

Just recently, too, I found the fact that historically the nickname was coined by a Jewish trader who resided in Bandung. This is new to me. Though I know that there is a very small number of Jews in Java but I’ve never heard of their existence there.

One of my most favorite parts of trip is definitely the train ride. As majestic as it gets, the breathtaking view really stuns me. While the Argo Parahyangan train passes through Padalarang, I cast my glance at the surrounding ravines and green hills. Simply lovely! Hilly areas with a lot of splendid natural attractive landscape of ‘Pasundan Earth’.

Because I am such an old building lover, going to the increasingly congested city feels like paying a visit to seventh heaven. But I do witness some newly built establishments around the city as well, making me forget that this place is the national heritage on its own. Its adjacency with Jakarta makes it truly special. It offers Europe-like weather and temperature, thanks to the latitude. Yet, Bandung is no longer that cool and green, so I heard. And I found it true somehow. Global climate change is no joke for sure.

Farmhouse, Lembang is NOT a place to visit in this rainy season. Your excursion might get disrupted by sudden downpour, just like what I experienced here. As we (my coworkers and I) got off the bus, we could feel the breeze that gradually became a gust of wind. I could never thank myself more for bringing along an umbrella with me all the way from home.

The raindrops were still falling down when I got to the house of hobbits. One huge disappointment to us was that we – everyone actually – was not allowed to get into the house. And we didn’t see any worth-doing things here other than taking photographs to upload on Instagram. Which is quite sad to me.

Sitting down at the cafe inside the compound is truly joy to be honest. That lazy afternoon, we couldn’t help ourselves from sipping a cup of coffee or flavored milk that we just had gotten from a counter right before we entered the compound.

Theme park with European-style buildings, Dutch costumes for rent, a mini zoo & a hip restaurant. Nothing special. I in fact wished something more Sundanese, something local, something authentic, something you can’t find anywhere else on earth. This is good but well, this is a replica of a chunk of Europe. No matter great it looks, it still comes second to Europe or New Zealand where you can find cattle grassing on meadows. Here, I can’t find any of these cattle.

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Shifting to Chinese Town in Bandung, I can tell you it’s an overly hyped tourist attraction. When I was told we were going to the place, I thought it was a vast area where we can just wander around freely, where a whole-day sightseeing is possible and foods are made by authentic local food sellers with recipes that have endured and been tested for decades and treasured as family legacies.

It turned out to be a small, derivative, artificial version of China Town elsewhere.  Excuse me for being derisive but I thought it could be far better than this.

While I was trying to be positive, I found the China Town quite informative in some way to tell us a brief history of Chinese descendant people in Bandung and the surrounding areas.

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Overall, it was a lovely place to visit if you want to snap a photo or two (or two hundreds even because this complex was – I assumed – built to accommodate such Instagram-worshiper crowd) to upload on your social media feeds. But if you want something more meaningful and historically profound and detailed, this is just not for you. It’s no museum in any way, so please don’t expect there’ll be a guide here to tell you some history of the China Town in Bandung.

My brief visit here was ended with the showcase of barongsai , performed by a band of little boys with agility level far from one of professional performers. Anyway, you can just appreciate their hard work to put on a show by giving them some change in your pockets because that’s the norm there according to my Chinese Bandung native colleague. (*/)