Medan, the world tongkat ali (pasak bumi) capital
This website is my personal tribute to the city of Medan, the world's tongkat ali capital, my favorite place in the world.
I am a European author, and I have visited Medan many times during the last 10 years. I am not of retirement age yet, but if I were, Medan, or the province of North Sumatra, would be my first choice. Anyway, the best herbal an old man can get his hands on, is tongkat ali (pasak bumi in Indonesian, Eurycoma longifolia by scientific name).
Never heard of tongkat ali? Check tongkatali.org.
While residence permits for foreigners are hard to come by (and expensive) anywhere in Indonesia, I am serious with my choice of Medan. So serious that I am prepared to give up my original citizenship, and become Indonesian instead.
If ever I had a love relationship with a city, than this is it. And I sincerely do hope that it will be a love relationship 'til death do us part, and never turn into scorn and hate as love relationships among humans sometimes do.
Some parts of the city of Medan are beautiful, and Medan has repeatedly won Indonesian prices for a well-maintained city, but it's not really the architecture that has captured me. Neither is it the landscape ("medan" is the Indonesian word for "field", and indeed, the city is built on flat ground).
From the perspective of architecture, there are anyway few large cities in Indonesia or Asia that are beautiful in the sense that Rome, Bern, or Heidelberg are beautiful cities. While Medan is, by Asian standards, an old city, reaching back more than 500 years, it's appearance (as that of all large Asian cities) is marked by rapid growth and development over the last 50 years.
There are beautiful houses in Medan, for example in the upper-class part of town near the Polonia airport (some rubber and tongkat ali barons living there), but it's not the architecture that makes for the charm of the city. It's the people.
Medan is a multi-ethnic city. Bataks who traditionally inhabit the inland areas of North Sumatra make up the majority. Until about a 100 years ago, the Bataks were active headhunters, which of course is commonly known in Indonesia and beyond. Maybe not everybody's idea of a nice people, but rest assured that your head will remain attached to your neck if you visit Medan this time around.
There are two groups of Bataks in Medan, the southern Bataks (Mandailing) who are Muslims, and the Northern Batak (Toba, Karo) who are predominantly Protestant Christians (due to the influence of a very successful German missionary, Ludwig Nommensen, 1834-1918).
Other large ethnic groups are the Melayu (traditionally inhabiting the Eastern coast of Sumatra), the Minang (from central Western Sumatra), and Javanese transmigrants. While Medan transmigrants (most are second-generation) usually do identify their ethnic background, I have always found that their identity is much more Medanese than, for example, Javanese, or Sundanese, or Minang. To be more specific, I find Medan Javanese people more similar to other Medan inhabitants than they would be to the Javanese on Java. Medan has its own character.
The people of Medan are more outgoing and less self-restricted than those in other parts of Indonesia. This makes for a particular brand of chaos, as well as of freedom. You have to live here for some time to capture this atmosphere. It expresses itself in some aspects of public everyday life, but is most evident in personal communication.
To give an example of Medan's public chaos (and freedom): Medan is the only Indonesian or Asian city I know off where you could routinely cross by car any red traffic light in front of a policeman without ever being stopped. I don't want to defend this habit, and when I am stuck in traffic because of this lack of discipline, I do get annoyed. But I also know that it is an expression of the headstrongness and outgoing character of the Medanese.
Talking about traffic: Medan is a wide, sprawling city, and it is well-managed even though red-light stopping is not enforced. Traffic congestion normally is not a problem. Medan has more than two million inhabitants, but because it covers so much area, it does not feel as congested as much smaller cities on Java.
Medan probably is the city I now know best in the world, and it is and will remain a primary topic of my writing, whether I will be able or not, to push through with my plan to become not just a permanent resident but an Indonesian resident of the city.
I could talk for hours about Medan, and I do so on other websites dedicated to Medan, North Sumatra, and Indonesia, covering topics from travel to foreign investment, but this site primarily is intended as pictorial. They say that a picture tells more than 1000 words, and with more than 1000 photos on this site, this should make for a lot of information.
Enjoy Medan and North Sumatra.