Medan: First ImpressionWednesday, September 02, 2015
In reality, this was the first time I saw the city of Medan. In my dream, I had seen it since I read about it in the newspaper many years ago, when I was still in junior high school. The city was said to be vibrant, multiracial, and rich with history.
Of all big cities in Indonesia, I’m pretty sure Medan is the only city with a big number of ethnic Tamil populations. The Tamils dwelled in a quarter, called Kampong Keling and built some Hindu temples to worship their deity figures.
My travel mate and I arrived in Medan right in Chinese New Year’s Eve this year. The Chinese was once, in the past, the biggest ethnic group in the city. It was not hard to find what left from that period of time. Old Chinese shop houses, temples, and even a mansion belonged to a former Chinese tycoon became attractive places to go for tourists today.
What was great to see in Chinese New Year’s Eve was either a family gathering at dining room or people saying prayers in the temple. Not only did they say prayers for themselves, but also for the late ancestors who had departed from this life. It wasn’t easy for me to get the access to Chinese family gathering that night. So the only possible thing to do was coming to a temple.
It was beyond our expectation that there were only small number of people coming to the temple located on Jalan Hang Tuah. I guessed most Chinese people that night spent the New Year’s Eve with their families at home. The temple was rather secluded, located inside a complex of big housings belonged to the upper class people.
Long before our coming to Medan that night, I had heard some negative rumors about Chinese people in Medan. They were stereotyped as an exclusive society, rude, unfriendly with other ethnic groups, and racist. Since I came out from the plane at the airport, I had heard them speak in Chinese Hokkien dialect. I personally didn’t see it as a big deal as such thing like that was very common in other places I had visited like Malaysia and Singapore.
That stereotype had a little bit affected my mind when I entered the Chinese temple on Jalan Hang Tuah that night. I thought it would be awkward for me and my travel mate to be there. Well, maybe what the people had said about Chinese in Medan was not incorrect. But we spent more than an hour in that temple, getting inside the worship place, taking many pictures, and no one showed us a hostile manner, not even a tiny little bit.
Everyone coming face to face with us smiled. Well, at least to our cameras pointing toward their faces. Stereotypes often mean wrong judgment, but sadly, in most cases, they will stay forever in everyone’s mind.