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    Tropical Storm Tour: Sumatra Part 3

    Thursday, August 6, 2015
    Medan, Sumatra, Indonesia

    Looking out the front window of a becak in Medan, Sumatra, Indonesia.
    Looking out the front window of a becak in Medan, Sumatra, Indonesia.

    The Tjong A Fie Mansion in Medan, Sumatra, Indonesia.
    The Tjong A Fie Mansion in Medan, Sumatra, Indonesia.

    Today, I jumped in a becak for a bumpy two-kilometer ride, plunging into deep potholes and getting my teeth rattled over extremely uneven train tracks. My destination was the Tjong A Fie Mansion, one of Medan’s very few sight-seeing spots suitable for your average camera-toting tourist. (Well, these days they mostly tote smartphones.) “Built in 1895 by Chinese immigrant Tjong A Fie, the rectangular two story 35-room mansion combines Chinese, Malay and European architecture. Born in 1860 in Sung Kow Village, Canton, China, Tjong A Fie moved to Kampung Laboean (Belawan) on the East Coast of Sumatra in 1877.

    The Tjong A Fie Mansion in Medan, Sumatra, Indonesia.
    The Tjong A Fie Mansion in Medan, Sumatra, Indonesia.

    The Tjong A Fie Mansion in Medan, Sumatra, Indonesia.
    The Tjong A Fie Mansion in Medan, Sumatra, Indonesia.

    “As Tjong A Fie established a new life in the Sultanate of Deli, he built a thriving grocery business. Upon seeing his success, the Dutch government, who had colonized half of the universe by that point, appointed him as a government official, with the initial rank of Major, to take care of social affairs–especially for the Chinese community. Later, Tjong A Fie built the city of Medan, and was also appointed as an honorary officer of the Chinese Empire of the Far East during the era of the Ching Dynasty. Tjong A Fie died in Medan on February 4, 1921.”–Tjong A Fie Facebook

    The Tjong A Fie Mansion in Medan, Sumatra, Indonesia.
    The Tjong A Fie Mansion in Medan, Sumatra, Indonesia.

    Upon paying my 35,000 rupiah ($2.50) fee, I started to walk in past the three ladies at the counter, when I recalled reading that there was supposed to be a free guide with the price of admission. When I asked about that, one of them jumped up, led me in the front door and started right in with a highly polished speech about Tjong A Fie’s life and a brief bit of info about every room. Over the space of 15 or 20 minutes, we covered the whole building, taking in such dimly-lit, atmospheric scenes as the master bedroom and the library.

    The Tjong A Fie Mansion in Medan, Sumatra, Indonesia.
    The Tjong A Fie Mansion in Medan, Sumatra, Indonesia.

    Many rooms contained beautifully carved furniture from various countries and periods, while others were filled with museum-like displays of mounted, enlarged vintage photographs of Tjong A Fie and all of his relatives and descendants. Numerous attractive sculptures, paintings, books and knick-knacks also filled many of the rooms. There was even a shop selling mostly women’s clothing. If you ever find yourself in Medan, I must say the Tjong A Fie Mansion is an excellent way to spend a couple of hours.

    The Tjong A Fie Mansion in Medan, Sumatra, Indonesia.
    The Tjong A Fie Mansion in Medan, Sumatra, Indonesia.

    The Tjong A Fie Mansion in Medan, Sumatra, Indonesia.
    The Tjong A Fie Mansion in Medan, Sumatra, Indonesia.

    As my time in the mansion drew to a close, I moseyed north a half mile to Merdeka Walk, a pleasant row of eateries next to an athletic field near the main train station in central Medan. After checking out all of the possibilities, I settled upon Batiks Urban Cafe for a plate of delicious gado gado, which consisted of vegetables, hard boiled eggs, fried tofu, tempeh and rice wrapped in a banana leaf–all smothered in peanut sauce. Too bad I didn’t know they were going to make it so spicy, or I would have asked them to tone it down a bit, because it totally killed my acid reflux-ravaged esophagus. For desert, I splurged on some yummy chocolate coconut ice cream in a waffle dish at a small stall called Glace D’Coco.

    The Tjong A Fie Mansion in Medan, Sumatra, Indonesia.
    The Tjong A Fie Mansion in Medan, Sumatra, Indonesia.

    Distressed and weathered flyers in Medan, Sumatra, Indonesia.
    Distressed and weathered flyers in Medan, Sumatra, Indonesia.

    Over at the train station, as I haggled with a becak driver to take me back to the Gandhi Inn, I happened to glance over and noticed two young local guys 20 feet away looking at me and laughing. Oh, well! You have to get used to reactions like that when you’re traveling in a different culture on the other side of the Earth. You have to remember that to some of the locals, you look exotic. On the way back to my room, I was bummed my camera battery had died right when I left the mansion, because I spied a few extremely picturesque and weathered vehicles and walls that I was aching to shoot photos of. Argh!

    Words and photos ©2015 Arcane Candy.

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