When I was asked to write about Malang, the city where I was born and raised, there came a brief moment of panic as ideas and thoughts began pouring into my head. How does one write about a place that holds so many heartfelt memories and not get mired in details that are meaningless to people who have never been there? When I was asked to write about Malang, the city where I was born and raised, there came a brief moment of panic as ideas and thoughts began pouring into my head.
How does one write about a place that holds so many heartfelt memories and not get mired in details that are meaningless to people who have never been there?
I finally decided that the best way to approach the task would be to just focus on what makes Malang unique. Once I started thinking in these terms, my job of writing about my home town got a whole lot easier.
Surrounded by mountains, the city was denied direct flights to Jakarta until just three years ago.
Garuda Indonesia, Sriwijaya and Batavia Airlines now fly direct routes to Malang, which is the only way to get there that guarantees bypassing the perpetually clogged overland route from Surabaya that is still rerouted daily according to the whims of the Lapindo mud flow.
Landing at Abdurrahman Saleh Airport in Malang is a unique experience on its own.
As a functioning military airbase, it’s not exactly a cradle of luxury. However, the one-level terminal gets the job done and it doesn’t take long before travelers are on their way to the heart of the city.
Big trees, wide sidewalks and fresh mountain air might provide a shock to people just in from Jakarta, but most find that it doesn’t take long before they get over the shock and start to enjoy it.
Sadly, parts of Malang have replicated the mistakes of other big cities in the country by building too many malls.
Perhaps the fact that the most recent addition, a sprawling blight called MX, sits mostly vacant will provide the slap needed to finally break the mall fever that has local developers in a glassy-eyed spell.
But there are still plenty of places that make Malang unique.
The Tugu Monument in front of the City Hall with its red water lily pond, the Jasmine Monument in front of the Brawijaya Military Museum and the Beverly Hills-meets-Malang Jalan Ijen neighborhood of upscale homes are all good places to start.
A Catholic church, Kalam Kudus, is a legacy from the Dutch administration, dating back to the 1800s.
Malang’s cooler weather and morning mists make it a great city for walking, a simple pleasure that is nonexistent in Jakarta. As one of the few cities in East Java with well-maintained sidewalks, Malang is best explored on foot.
Walking paths along Jalan Surabaya in front of Malang State University provide great views of the city. Jalan Ijen with its palm trees, local shops, colonial architecture and cool fresh air is also a great place to spend a day strolling around.
Public transport in Malang is good, but somewhat confusing.
Mikrolet minivans carry the bulk of the load, but a lack of displayed information along each route can leave visitors a little perplexed. The best way to avoid getting lost is to just ask the driver where he’s headed before hopping in his van.
The drivers are used to this and will answer politely with a smile.
There are few guides on Malang’s culinary scene, leaving many notable eateries undiscovered and underrated.
A modest food stall on Jalan Ijen offers a delicious variation on a local breakfast favorite, serving vegetables and crackers with rice and spicy peanut sauce, called Pecel Kawi.
For a treat unknown even to most locals, try Gado-Gado Campus on Jalan Surabaya.
This small eatery serves some of the best-tasting gado-gado, another peanut sauce and vegetable delight with rice.
The small shop only seats around 10 people, but the flavors are worth the tight fit.
Asked if she has plans to expand or open up another branch, the old woman who runs the entire operation only smiled and said, “This is how much I can handle. I don’t want my gado-gado to lose its quality because I can’t cook it all myself. I don’t want to change.”
Her honest attitude and good cheer are just another unique aspect of Malang’s charm.
And that is something all the new malls in the world can never change.
Writer: Nauval Yazid