In January, I headed up to Indonesia to brush up on my language skills and visit a town I’ve never been to before – Bandung in West Java. Bandung has long been on my wish-list for a number of reasons. It’s known as the Garden City of Indonesia and being located up in the mountains, it’s a lot cooler than sea-level.
Bandung is also shopping Mecca. While I don’t like the whole global economics of sweatshops, it’s hard for a shopper to resist the lure of designer jeans at local prices. Clothing production is Bandung’s livelihood. You can buy your clothes and get your alterations done all out on the street with such time-tested machines as these:
The lure of the 7 storey fabric market was hard to resist. In fact, I failed miserably and went there twice in 4 days because it was just so overwhelming…
Kain songket India for $1.50/meter anyone? Don’t mind if I do…
Liberty-like cotton, $3.50/m? I could resist that, not being a huge fan of floral, but I had to send the photos off to torture friends at home…
And besides the amazing food, amazing shopping and amazing scenery, there were a lot of little Indonesia-quirks that make Indonesia Indonesia… In the 20 years I’ve been visiting Indonesia, Muslim culture has always been pretty relaxed and accepting, but there is no denying that Muslim fashion has become a huge thing. We did a lot of headscarf shopping, my friend and I. Now you might think there’s not a lot of variety, but you’d be wrong. Loose scarves, pre-wrapped scarves, turban style scarves… Scarves with built-in ‘pillows’ so that if you want to cut your hair short and look like it’s down to your waist but tied up in a bun, you can totally pull of that illusion… Muslim South Park themed head scarf anyone???
One conversation which sticks in my head was my friend asking a shopkeeper about a style of scarf that was in a catalogue. “That,” sneered the shopkeeper, “is from the 2014 collection. We don’t stock that any more.”
But perhaps the funniest clash of Western and Islamic culture and fashion I saw was this collection of Barbies. Do note the Disney princess motif on the green doll’s very correct Muslim attire.
Besides the shopping, there were the reminders that Indonesia is a developing country. I met several people whose children had died young, from ailments that would not have been a death-sentence in the West. The friend of a friend who I stayed with gave birth the night we left. She came home from her first trip to the hospital that night as she was having contractions every 10 minutes but as she didn’t have insurance, they didn’t want to admit her until the situation was urgent. She then had to ring around several hospitals and find one that would take her and had a female doctor. Then there was the aunt of a friend who was second wife and had been sent away after her three children died in infancy and the first wife kept on beating her. Some of the more unpleasant impacts of the confluence between religion and economics.
As this is my quilting blog, I won’t ramble on. Suffice it to say that I used my baggage allowance up in fabric. However if you’d like to read a little more about my thoughts and experiences about being immersed in Indonesia and its Islamic culture, I wrote a piece here.