Kediri: The Land of Potentials

Tatiana Arianne Raisa
Artikel oleh : Tatiana Arianne Raisa
Foto oleh : Tatiana Arianne Raisa
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Kediri, the third biggest city in East Java province filled with untapped beauty and talents that is yet to be discovered by its nation. Though considered to be the major trade center of Indonesian sugar and cigarette industry, the staples of Indonesian lives, the city itself is not widely known for the arts and culture unlike its Javanese counterpart such as Surabaya and Jogjakarta.

When I first arrived Kediri, I had zero knowledge on the city, culture, food and people. All I knew is that it is near Surabaya and I put my approximate knowledge on East Javanese culture to my idea of Kediri. Unexpectedly, Kediri surprised me. On the first day, the long tiring hours of traveling to Kediri from Juanda Airport diminishes my excitement, however my worn out face quickly lighten up when I ate my first Kediri dish, nasi pecel. It wasn’t my first time eating nasi pecel as it is indigenous to Java and very common in Jakarta, nonetheless, there was something special with the pecel I ate that day. It could be from the spiciness of freshly grounded sambal mixed with piping hot fried tempe and tofu or maybe from the wide friendly smiles that the people gave us while serving the dish. You can rightly tell that these people genuinely appreciate visitors and this warmth is the first of many given by the Kediri people. After the meal, the day was continued by going to Candi Lor, an ancient temple just by the outskirt of Kediri. The sight of the temple was unlike of anything I’ve ever seen, by the temple stood a grand ancient tree wrapping around pyramids of red bricks. Built at the year of 937, Candi Lor is said to be founding monument of Nganjuk district. I would never have expected that Kediri, a city that I initially thought was small to store a history so old like Candi Lor.

The next few days of my journey in Kediri definitely kept me on my feet. The great impression I’ve had on the first day was only getting better by the next day. I spent the morning visiting their bustling traditional market, further discovering the Kediri way of life. The market vendors aren’t all too different from Jakarta, the prices were cheaper but the staple goods are similar. There was only one thing that piqued my interest, the bird market. Not too far from the traditional market lies hundreds of birds being caged and sold. Across the rows of cages, are people sitting and sipping their coffee enjoying the loud chirpings. This sight was almost too surreal; people calmly flip their next page of newspaper and conversing with loud background noises to accompany them. I was then explained by the tour guide of the bird culture that Javanese people have. Javanese are peaceful people that love serene nature. Apparently, Javanese symbolizes nature through birds. They find that birds’ chirp is calming and listening to it in the morning is part of their ritual. I quickly recalled my Javanese grandfather that owns a parrot and takes care of it with all his heart. I never really knew the importance of birds to Javanese people before this. I was told that Javanese people would actually put their birds’ need first rather than their own need; bathing the bird even if they haven’t. Kediri is also known for its volcanic mountain, Gunung Kelud. I went there to have panoramic scenery photographs and I wasn’t disappointed. I reached the top with motorcycle, taking shortcuts of what could have been a long hike. The scenery was definitely worth every thousands of rupiah spent on renting the motorcycle. That day ended with a visit to Wayang kulit maestro’s home. Wayang kulit or shadow puppet is a long preserved tradition of theatrical performance using puppets, usually telling stories drawn from the Hindu epics such as Ramayana and Mahabharata. Playing the wayang is a form of art that takes years to master and the person playing it is called dalang. That day, we met Mbah Joko, a wayang kulit dalang that has performed all his life. He showed us the craftsmanship of creating his own wayang kulit. Seeing how a master creates his own masterpiece was mesmerizing. He would fluently create dots by carefully hammering small nails to a fragile cured buffalo skin. Through the intricate details made by small single dots, the wayang was slowly coming to life. The process of creating wayang can take weeks and even months. This just shows how patient Javanese people can be.

The day after, I enjoyed the day exploring Kediri from both highland and lowland. At dawn, I went to the hilltop to catch sunrise and followed by going to the four hours away, Prigi beach right after. Coming to Kediri, I did not expect I will be going to a beach, I did not expect there would be a beach and to my surprise it was beautiful. I rent a small boat to get around the islands surrounding the beach, the sight was heavenly and it instantly made my trip into a mini summer vacation. It felt as though I did not have to go far to Phi Phi Island.

Of all the sights I’ve enjoyed in Kediri, the best part for me is still the city. Whether it’s day or night, the city of Kediri offers so much. Far from the bustling metropolitan view, Kediri has the charm of being a big tobacco city yet still retaining its simplicity. When I walked just outside my hotel, I would find myself being lost in the day activities of people selling their goods. Unlike Jakarta where car honk can be heard blaring from miles away, the street of Kediri was much more peaceful. Especially at night where activities were put on hold, the street was so quiet as though I owned it. With no cars or any other vehicles were around, the street was completely yours. The street of Kediri is also very distinctive; it has similar ambiance to Malioboro Street in Jogjakarta. The gudang garam signage and smiley faces of street vendors can be seen along the sideways, giving an identity that no other cities can replicate.

The climax of this trip was surely Kediri Bertutur, the main reason of my visit. Kediri Bertutur is a cultural event showcasing various performances by local artists held in Bung Karno Site “Ndalem-Pojok”. There were numbers of performances such as traditional dancing, singing and wayang playing but the main performance was the “Panji Tani” dance, the retelling of Panji stories. The dance was a unique contemporary performance blending ballet with traditional Javanese dance. This performance was too overwhelmingly beautiful that my jaw dropped during the whole routine. The dance was said to be a symbol of fertility ritual, telling the story of Panji and his wife Sekartaji. The elements used in the dance are so full of symbolism, like the smell and smoke of incense are used to symbolize the connection of human with God and nature, whilst a man with bull head is used to symbolized the closeness of human with nature along with power that is sourced from the “Shiwa Bhairawa” teachings. The whole night of Kediri Bertutur was plain enthralling. I can see that every single performance was done wholeheartedly and Kediri Bertutur has successfully brought different communities and unite them through one eventful night.

If I must point out one thing that sticks to my heart the most, it would be the people. Coming from a Javanese background, I learnt a lot of my heritage from this trip. Javanese are known to be polite and patient people. Talking to numerous people during my stay really shows the extent of Javanese hospitality. Albeit being quite small, Kediri highly reflects the Javanese culture and its heritage. The next thing that I really loved about Kediri was the food. As a food love or a foodie, I believe that the dish made by the people reflects their way of life. Throughout the trip, I tried a number of dishes and was quite taken by it. The food had moderate seasoning and not overwhelming with spices, yet very tasteful. Their soto daging for example, is a blend of juicy beef with rich coconut milk full of umami flavoring. Quite a balance of saltiness and sweetness, just like the principle of Javanese way of living. For my Javanese palette, the foods available here are just perfect.

When talking about Kediri, it can’t be separated from tobacco. As a major cigarette city, Kediri is virtually living off Gudang Garam, a kretek tobacco industry. Having their main factory in Kediri, today, Gudang Garam is the major employer of the city, with more than 40,000 workers. The tobacco culture can be clearly seen throughout the city where cigarette ads are frequently placed and cigarette rolling paper sold freely in the marts. High quality tobacco here are also sold very cheaply with only few thousands of rupiah can actually get you few ounce of tobaccos. In here, this is where I also found klobot, a kind of cigarette only found in few areas of Java where the tobacco is wrapped by a dried corn skin, which added a unique sweet flavor to the cigarette. Without getting into details, I must say that there are both pro and contra towards the tobacco industry. It is certainly sad for me to see cigarette ads everywhere and seeing a city being dependent on cigarette industry for it to flourish. This gets me thinking as whether government can actually help small cities.

All in all, this trip left me something that is very deep. It has given me a great new perspective regarding small cities like Kediri. I felt very mistaken to initially think that small cities also have small significance. Kediri, the land of potentials I would say, is filled with arts, culture, people and sceneries that are yet to be discovered. Being there made me realize that Kediri can be as good as other highly publicized cities such as Jogjakarta. Kediri also has rich cultural values, not too different from Jogjakarta, there are just so much to explore but they don’t have the same support from the government. The quality of things produced by the people of Kediri their genuine feelings put into their work made them very valuable. These people are still in touch with their cultural roots and values yet they also never stop growing. This is what is lacking from nowadays generation. That is why, Kediri is the land of potentials, there are just so much that Kediri can thrive to, if only there was more support from government and the people. There are just so much potentials that Kediri can be as big as Jogjakarta, if not more. With the ever-growing metropolitan life, it is important for the youths to keep in touch with their heritage to have value and meaning in the things that they do. This is one thing that must be learnt from Kediri people, to do things that have value for their lives and not blindly do things because of others or because of conformity. 

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