From Singapore to Sumatra – Medan

We enjoy an entire week in Singapore and make plans to go to Medan, the 4th-largest city in Indonesia, on the island of Sumatra.

A good friend gifted us with some cash to enjoy a cocktail on arrival in Bangkok. Instead, we have been saving this to order a Singapore Sling at Raffles Hotel, where they were invented. Unfortunately, the hotel is completely closed for a total renovation.

Raffles Hotel, courtesy of Wikipedia

Accommodation is expensive in Singapore. We stay in a ‘capsule hotel’ in the Kampung Glam neighbourhood.

Ground Control to Major Tom

This is a room about the size of a large bread oven. Good thing we spend all our time outdoors anyway.

Now it’s time to leave the capsule, if you dare…

Singapore would’ve been a great place to exploit the hefty IBM hotel discount – there are scores of snazzy hotels that I’m sure offer a steep  discount to IBM people. Didn’t feel like pestering currently-employed IBMers for the list of applicable hotels.

We make it out to Tiger Balm Gardens, one of three started by the brothers responsible for the Tiger Balm empire.

Tiger Balm Gardens

It features concrete sculptures meant to inculcate good Chinese values by reference to folktales and traditional stories. Many of these are utterly bizarre to the uninitiated.

Confucius say – ‘Always wear a life jacket’

Some have explanatory plaques in several languages for background information. Many don’t, and leave us scratching our heads.

Confucius say – ‘Don’t be shellfish’

We comment on the rarity of dogs in Singapore. They are so rare that this pair of professional dog-walkers draws a crowd simply because they have half a dozen mutts in tow.

Dog show

As we depart by boat from Singapore to Batam – a nearby island in Indonesia – we pass more buildings that look like they’re about to cave in.

Farewell, Singapore

After about an hour of travel through the thousand ships that lie in Singapore’s harbour – this is not an exaggeration – we arrive in Batam Island, where we catch a flight to Medan.

In Medan, we visit the Tjong a Fie Mansion. Tjong a Fie was a local  Chinese businessman/philanthropist.


Across the street from here, we enjoy the best soto ayam in Medan.

Our guesthouse is down the street from the Medan Mosque.

AKA the Masjid Raya Al Mashun

The palace of the Sultan of Deli. (Not Delhi.)

AKA istana maimoon

This place is popular with locals. They can dress up in period costumes and have their photos taken.

The Sultan’s throne

A group of schoolkids arrives for a visit. The colour of their uniform reminds us of watermelons.

Watermelon-patch kids

On the grounds is the cutest stray kitten. His piteous mewing attracts our attention. We hope his mamma is around. If we could, we’d bring all of these homeless creatures in and give them the life they deserve.

Who could resist these eyes?

We finally find a museum we’ve been searching for.

Museum of Northern Sumatra

Medan is not the most charming city in the world. We have a specific reason for our sojourn here.

Sight or Insight of the Day – Medan

We are plunged into the deep end of third-world conditions once more. Thailand is visibly more developed than its neighbours. Malaysia is essentially a developed country. And Singapore is like a city of the future, where you could safely perform brain surgery on its sidewalks.

Instantly, we are back in insane traffic, crumbling cities, chaos, and open drains running thick with a noisome, viscous, disease-laden stew of God-knows-what.

Strange brew

People are very kind to us here. But the physical environment takes some adjustment.

We’re back to where the sidewalks are unusable because they either don’t exist or serve primarily as parking lots for motorbikes or someone’s cottage industry.

This means taking your chances in the road.

Living dangerously

Often they disintegrate and never get fixed.

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold

All good character-building stuff.