February 5 Drive back and Tour Medan

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Al Mashun Grand Mosque in Medan, Sumatra

On our final day in Sumatra, we left Lake Toba on the passenger ferry that goes from Tuk Tuk to Pak Pak on the mainland.

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Batak Toba style house on the shore of Samosir Island

It was a beautiful morning for our 45 minute ferry ride across Lake Toba.

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Harmony sokas up the sun on the upper deck of the ferry!

 We passed another small island in Lake Toba.

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A small island in Lake Toba

Notice that the bench on the ferry that I am sitting on is partially broken. This is typical in Sumatra; many things do not appear to be well maintained!

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Ann is sitting on a partially broken bench on the passenger ferry across Lake Toba

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Lighthouse on an island in Lake Toba

We drove for awhile on bad roads from Pak Pak back towards Medan. When Tian, our driver, made a rest stop a couple of hours later, we were quite surprised to find that it was a Chinese rest stop!

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Ann is standing next to a portrait of Guangong in a Chinese rest stop along the road to Medan

Medan’s population includes a large number of ethnic Chinese residents. They are very active in the business sector, and unlike the ethnic Chinese in many other parts of Indonesia, they continue to speak Hokkien. And this was a very nice, clean rest stop, with lots of delicious snacks for sale!

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Snacks for sale in a Chinese rest stop along the road to Medan

Medan is the capital of the North Sumatra province in Indonesia. Located on the northern coast, it is the third largest city in Indonesia.  Medan started as a village, called Kampung Medan (Medan Village). around 1590. The original location of Kampung Medan is the area where the Deli River meets the Babura River.

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A mosque in Medan

The first inhabitants of Medan were the Malays from the Malay Peninsula, the Mandalings from the South Tapanuli area and the Batak Karo who came from the volcanic highlands. It was not until the Sultan of Aceh sent his warlord  to be his representative in Medan Deli, that the Sultanate of Deli, where Medan is located, started to grow.  And during this time period, most of the residents became Muslims. So there are many mosques in Medan. And we saw cemeteries, mostly Muslim, alongside of the road, and no family sarcophaguses in the fields.

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A Muslim cemetery alongside the road in Medan

Medan did not experience significant development until the 1860s, when the Dutch colonialists began clearing the land for tobacco plantations. Medan quickly became a center of government and commercial activity, dominating development of Indonesia’s western region. The Dutch governed  from 1658 until the end of the Indonesian war of independence in 1949. 

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A shop selling mosque domes alongside the road in Medan

In 1915 Medan officially became the capital of North Sumatra Province, and it officially became a city in 1918. Currently much of Medan’s historic architecture from the colonial era is being demolished to make way for modern buildings.

We ate lunch in a Muslim restaurant in Medan. Notice the silver bowls of water on the table to clean your fingers off while you eat This is something we were only given in Muslim restaurants.

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Harmony and Ann are eating lunch in a Muslim restaurant in Medan.

After lunch, we went to see Grand Mosque Al Mashun in Medan.  Al Mashun Grand Mosque was built during the reign of Sultan Al Rashid Perkasa Alamsyah Ma’mum.

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Grand Mosque Al Mashun in Medan

Grand Mosque Al Mashun was built in Moroccan style.. The first architect was a Dutchman named van Erp, who also designed the Palace Maimun, which is located near the mosque in downtown Medan.  The second architect was a Dutchman named Dingemans. He finished the design after van Erp was summoned to Java to work on the restoration of Borobudur temple.

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Prayer tower at Al Mashun Grand Mosque in Medan

Harmony and I had to put on head scarves to enter the mosque.

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Ann and Harmony wearing head scarves to enter the Al Mashun Grand Mosque in Medan

The construction work on the mosque began on August 21, 1906, and it was inaugurated during the Friday prayer on September 10, 1909.

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Prayer wall dividing the interior of the Al Mashun Grand Mosque in Medan into men and women’s sections

The mosque was very impressive inside!

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Inside the Al Mashun Grand Mosque in Medan

But something seemed odd about it. There were people sleeping in the hallways.

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A man sleeping on newspapers in a hallway in the Al Mashun Grand Mosque in Medan

And most of the bottoms of the stained glass windows were broken, and had not been repaired. A man in the mosque told me that the Al Mashun Grand Mosque windows were broken during the war of independence with the Dutch. People damaged the Al Mashun Grand Mosque because it was built by the Dutch, and they saw it as a symbol of repression. I think they still do. It seems like there is a lack of respect for this particular mosque. But at the same time, they don’t want to demolish it, because it is a religious building.

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Broken stained glass windows in Al Mashun Grand Mosque in Medan

Next we went to see the nearby Maimun Palace. This is an istana (royal palace) of the Sultanate of Deli and also a well-known landmark in Medan. It is not far from the Al Mashun Grand Mosque.

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Maimun Palace in Medan

Built by the Dutch for Sultan Makmun Al Rasyid Perkasa Alamsyah from 1887–1891, the palace covers 2,772 square meters and has 30 rooms.

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Jeff and Harmony are standing in front of the Maimun Palace in Medan

The Palace has become a popular tourist destination in the city because of its historical importance, and also because of its unique interior design. The interior design of the palace mixes elements of Malay, Islam, Spanish, Indian, and Italian style.

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Inside of the Maimun Palace in Medan. The current Sultan has no political power, and no longer lives in the palace.

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Ann and Jeff are standing in front of the Sultan’s throne inside of the Maimun Palace in Medan

We did not get a lot of information about the Al Mashun Grand Mosque and Maimun Palace from our tour guide Hans. He knew much more about Batak history than he seemed to know about the history of Medan.

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Musicians playing Indonesian instruments inside of the Maimun Palace in Medan

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Jeff and Ann are sitting in chairs in a living room area of the Maimun Palace that has been converted into a gift shop

Outside of the Maimun Palace, there was a building with a sacred cannon inside. The story is that the spirit of one of the Sultan’s sons went inside the cannon after it overheated and broke apart during a great battle. The broken cannon top has its own Batak style house. with flowers and other offerings around it. There was also a person standing guard, to make sure that no one got too close or touched the broken cannon.This seemed sort of odd to me.

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Sacred cannon at the Maimun Palace in Medan

Next, we went to see the Vihara Gunung Timur, a  Chinese Taoist/Buddhist Temple in Medan

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Chinese Vihara Gunung Timur Temple in Medan

First built 400 years ago, this temple is the oldest one  in Indonesia. Buddhists came to Indonesia before Muslims and Christians, so this temple is also older than any of the mosques and churches in Indonesia. It was a beautiful, impressive temple, but I am only including photos here of what was different about it from the temples that I have seen in China and Taiwan. There were guardian dragons with fish tails on the roof.

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Guardian dragon with a fish tail on the roof of the Chinese  Vihara Gunung Timur Temple in Medan

There were also statues of a wolf and a chicken alongside the statues of the temple guardians inside the temple. I asked Hans why they were there. His explanation was that the rooster was considered sacred here because it calls people to prayer early in the morning. That made sense to me.

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A statue of a sacred rooster next to a Guan Gong temple guardian statue in the Chinese Vihara Gunung Timur Temple in Medan

He said that the wolf evolved from bad to good. So that made the wolf a very strong guardian and protector of the goodness of Buddha.

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A statue of a wolf inside of the Chinese Vihara Gunung Timur Temple in Medan

Our final stop of the day was a crocodile farm at Asam Kumbang, located about 10 kilometers from the center of Medan. This farm has many crocodiles of different sizes and species. It was built in 1959.

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41 year old crocodile st the crocodile farm in Medan

This 24 year old crocodile had lost its tail.

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24 year old crocodile at the crocodile farm in Medan

There were crocodiles from 7 to 41 years old on display in cement enclosures. There were also many more crocodile in an  enclosed pond at the farm.Tthey were often hard to see in the muddy pond water.

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Crocodiles floating in a pond at the crocodile farm in Medan

Sometimes, an argument would happen between the crocodiles!

According to Hans, these are species of crocodiles native to Indonesia, but there are very few of them left in the wild. The farm is raising them to preserve the species, and also to make money selling their skins to be made into various items.

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Two crocodiles fighting in the pond at the crocodile farm in Medan

There was also an enclosure with some turtles in it that are native to Indonesia. Like many of the places that we visited in Sumatra, this farm looked like it was once nice, but was getting old and not being well maintained.
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Indonesian turtles at the crocodile farm in Medan

The hotel where we stayed that night in Medan was only okay. It was rated 4 stars, but it was showing its age and lack of maintenance. The elevator was banged up, with no sign of an inspection sticker. We were up on the third floor, and I felt safer taking the stairs! There was a pool, but but it was not as clean as the one at Lake Toba.There was electricity, and an air conditioner (not working well) in the room. However, there was Wifi internet  in room, the only time that we had it in our room during our entire trip to Sumatra! There was hot and cold water in shower. And there were roaches and mosquitoes in room. Harmony first spotted them in her room, and warned me. Sure enough, when we looked around our room, I also saw them. So I kept everything in the room zipped up and closed tight, as I did not want to bring any unwelcome “guests” back with me to our apartment in Taipei!

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Ann and Jeff are swimming in the hotel pool at our hotel in Medan

The hotel restaurant had very sour coffee, but otherwise the food was good.

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Harmony and Jeff are eating dinner at the hotel restaurant in Medan

The next day we left early to get to the airport. The new airport (it opened in 2013) is outside of Medan. They are building a highway between Medan and the airport, but it is not even close to being finished yet. So we had to allow an hour to drive from the center on Medan to the outskirts, on congested roads full of potholes!

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Ann is sitting in the Kuala Lumpur airport, wearing the beautiful carved necklace that I bought in Bukit Lawang

I had a wonderful time in Sumatra, and I am so glad that I went to see the jungle, animals, and volcanoes! It is a great place to go if you have a sense of adventure, and do not need luxurious accommodations. However, we all really appreciated the nicely paved roads and orderly traffic that we drove through on our way home from the airport in Taiwan!

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