I'll be honest, China scares me a bit. Maybe more than a bit. It's just so BIG and has so many people and is kind of a mystery to me. My only interactions I've had with native Chinese citizens is mostly limited to my time traveling through Asia. Many times I've come across throngs of Chinese tour groups laden down with the biggest and best photography equipment pushing to get to the very best spots of (insert any major landmark here). Pushing. There is always pushing. I even witnessed one tour group in the airport once rush to a section of four empty immigration lines as if their lives depended on being first, despite the fact that ONLY their own tour group was lining up. I put a great deal of effort into not judging others, and especially not stereotyping a whole race, but these situations made me hesitant to ever put myself in the throngs of China.
However, as most people know, there is China and then there is Hong Kong. Although I don't fully understand the politics of the relationship between the two, I know enough to say that China and Hong Kong are separate entities that have their own governing systems and policies. So when the opportunity came up to do a Professional Development workshop in Hong Kong I was hesitantly excited for my first bite of China.
I am happy to say that I not only did not get trampled by crowds, but I managed to have a lovely time in the "Pearl of the Orient." Hong Kong is a HUGE bustling city of 7.3 million people that is known for shopping with it's hundreds of malls. It is popular as a modern Asian city for both expats and locals living fast paced, big city lives.
As always, Kim, myself, and my friend and colleague, Sara, enjoyed wandering the streets, tasting the food, and soaking in the sites. We had Chinese dim sum, noodle dishes, chicken and rice, and so many other street treats. My *hands down* favorite find though was Nan Lian Garden. It is a public park adjacent to the Chin Lin Nunnery, both built in the style of the Tang Dynasty. As I wandered though I couldn't help but closely relate it to a Japanese garden where each and every item within the space is specifically chosen and placed. The walkways wind unevenly through to encourage a slowness and watchfulness in the experience. I had learned about these creations in college and it was a surreal experience to finally be meandering my way through one.
I wasn’t meant to visit Malang at all; yet on my third day in Indonesia I found myself on a train pulling up to the small, mostly overlooked city. My expectations were low for this quick, one-night stop over between the temples of Borobudur in the culture town on Yogyakarta and Mt. Bromo, the active volcano I would be climbing the next day. Unfortunately all of the direct trains had been sold out between the two stops, which left me overnighting it in Malang. Little did I know it would end up being my favorite serendipitous find in perhaps all of my travels.
The first glimpse I had of the Color Village took my breath away with surprise. I had just been picked up by Fauzia, a couch surfing friend who had spent some time at my place in Yangon a year before, and she was driving my wife and me to her family’s guest house on the outskirts of town. We were chatting away about Indonesian pancakes when we began crossing a bridge over a valley. Spread below it looked as if millions of paint cans had been dumped into the valley. I leaned across Gia to get a better look as hundreds of roofs came into view, each covered in multiple vibrant colors. I spotted people milling about, popping in and out of view as they disappeared between the sheets of color. Before I knew it we were engulfed by the city on the other side of the bridge and I craned my neck to catch any last bit of color.
Fauzia filled me in that night on the purpose of the Color Village, Kampung Warna Warni in Jodipan, or Warna-Warni (Colorful Village) as the locals refer to it. The project originated from eight college students of Universitas Muhammadiyah Malang as an assignment from their Event Management class. The purpose was to clean up the area (known as a slum) and bring beautification to the town. The added benefit being the tourists draw that was soon to follow. The students received a grant to make the project possible and finished the painting just days before my arrival.
The next day I spent the entire morning walking through the narrow spaces between the houses of Warna-Warni. To my continued surprise there was street art displayed throughout the whole village. Students, villagers, and volunteers alike had all worked on the project for the past few months. As I wandered through the pathways I caught glimpses into people’s homes as meals were prepared and children were playing. Every inch of the village was doused in color, there was a bicycle leaning against a fence that was layered with multiple colors, clothing of every hue were hung along balconies, each individual brick in a brick wall had it’s own unique pigment. There were patterns, designs, artwork, colors, and paintings everywhere. I couldn’t get enough.
I walked through the Color Village for hours. At one point I stopped to grab a drink from a little stall and began chatting with a woman who sold me a cold water. She was enthusiastic about the project and was very happy to have it finished. Soon, she hoped, lots of people would be visiting their village and she would be able to provide them with drinks. The woman explained how proud she was to live there now that it was “clean and beautiful,” especially for her children to be growing up there as well.
It was all of my favorite things rolled into one; a surprise find, meandering through narrow walkways, street art, and color! As my time came to make my way to the bus station, I enjoyed a few minutes of sketching in my traveling journal to serve as a reminder of this spectacular place, not that I could ever forget it.
How to visit:
This stop needs to be on your Indonesian itinerary! Malang is a small town but at a perfect location if you are coming from Yogakarta headed to Mt. Bromo or visa versa. In either of these towns you can make arrangements to take a train or bus to Malang. It is about an 8 hour train ride from Yogakarta and soooooo worth it!
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Alisa & Kim
Two expats living, teaching, and eating their way across this beautiful world