Monthly Archives: July 2012

MALANG, EAST JAVA: a reflection

Malang is arguably the prettiest town in Java.

The town square with fountain. Right next to the main mosque is the main Christian church.

This small city of about one million souls nestles in the uplands of East Java, Indonesia, some 90 km south of the regional capital, Surabaya.

Even the very centre of Malang has a small-town feel to it. True, the traffic zips along Indo-style, but pedestrians move slowly, usually finding someone to chat with. It’s the kind of place you can go just to loiter, browsing the shops, hanging out in the food halls or dawdling around the town square, with its shady trees and grassed areas surrounding its central fountain and ornamental pool. In the cool of evening, this place becomes very much a family affair.

The prompt for this reverie about Malang is that right now marks (unbelievably, for me) twenty years since I went to live there. It was my first time to relocate abroad & my first teaching post, at Merdeka University. I was over forty and the move marked a sea-change in my life, when I made the great leap to another country and another culture. Below is the complex for the hospitality course where I taught – and lived, for a short while, in a room at the back of these buildings.

The culture of East Java is greatly different from my Western background: very  Javanese/Madurese, very rural, very traditional. In the more remote villages, you can still find a scene of bullock-drawn carts, fence-less housing compounds, shared ablutions at the communal well or water-trough, and a very close sense of community.

Nevertheless, Malang has plenty of modern facilities, especially for people with a bit of money to spare (but not necessarily much: a dollar can still go a long way in local terms). There are hotels, nightclubs and other attractions, including sites of historical interest within driving distance, and beautiful countryside. Within day-trip distance are some wonderful lakes and waterfalls.

“Tugu”, the monument designed by President Sukarno, with city hall in background.

Malang is something of a campus town, with a clutch of sizeable universities and any number of academies and institutes.  Having so many young people around adds to the buzz of the place.

I revisited some years ago and found the place little changed. Large swathes of suburbia still retain houses in the Dutch-colonial style, neatly kept for the most part.  Still going was the wonderful Toko Oen, a restaurant/patisserie built in

Toko Oen (Photo: kapanlagi)

1930, with its original furniture and decor still in place. I usually dined there, and they used to switch on the reading lamp at my regular table when I came in. It retains its former charm, to judge from photos. Long may it do so.

cover.edEast Java in the late 1940s forms the setting for a major strand of my novel, Shadow Chase. Check it out at, where you can also find other material related to Indonesia.