GOOD MORNING, Gantong!
Awaken by serenity, a smile raised up instantly on my face. I was on the comfy bed in a comfy room at a comfy hotel in Gantong, East Belitong. I’d slept soundly all night and woke up feeling rested and refreshed.
Apparently my friend had been waiting for me to get up. He was sitting on his bed, silently killing the time with his cell phone.
“Good morning, Gantong! Ready for some morning walk?” He greeted me without even moving his head from the phone screen.
I was completely awake to start a joke. “Good morning! Damn! At first I thought you said ‘Good morning, Ganteng!‘” It’s an Indonesian word for ‘handsome’. My friend burst out laughing as I got up and hobbled to the toilet.
Getting ready to meet Gantong.
Gantong (or Gantung) is a subdistrict in the regency of East Belitong (or Belitung Timur/Beltim), in Bangka Belitung province, Indonesia. Gantong city where my friends and I spent overnight in Beltim is also the capital of the subdistrict. It’s a little town with the peaceful atmosphere I like to live in.
Gantong is not a random little town. This is the hometown of two influential figures of Indonesia: Andrea Hirata (the writer), and Basuki Tjahaja Purnama alias Ahok (the government official who is currently the governor of Jakarta).
Just come to one of the coffee houses (Warung Kopi/Warkop) in this area, join the locals sitting there, and they would be happy to tell you all about Andrea or Ahok. People here seem really proud of them both. Their sparkling eyes show it clearly.
Like any other place particularly in Malaysia, Singapore, and some parts of Indonesia, siting and drinking coffee for hours has long become the tradition in Belitong. Old-fashioned warkops are usually located at shop houses. A group of workers or senior citizens would linger over cups of coffee and exchange news and comments on various topics including politics, sports, entertainment, and food.
My friends and I had a light breakfast in Warkop 99, one of the coffee houses located on the main road of Gantong. Black tea with milk has always been my favorite (unlike the locals, I finished my drink in under 5 minutes). Pisang goreng (deep fried banana) as complimentary. And most of all, we had a nice chit chat with local people in this warkop. They showed their warmest welcome to us.
We came to the traditional market of Gantong. It’s actually placed in a modern semi-outdoor building, a very spacious and relatively clean complex. I usually hate the unpleasant smell of dead fish in wet section. But I didn’t smell any strong odor in this market. A good sign.
As an island in between Sumatera and Kalimantan, what you could more expect here in Belitong rather than seafood attack. Fish, prawns, crabs, squids. They’re all taken superfresh out of Karimata Strait. One local favorite dish* is Gangan, a fish head soup cooked together with pineapple and turmeric.
At the backside of the market was the calm river with fisherman boats anchored alongside the canal. The water was inviting me to swim. My friend said this small harbor is also the starting point for tourists to have a river cruise that includes mangrove tour.
“And crocodile feeding.”
My friend said that mangrove tour had already been running, while crocodile feeding was still on the plan as a part of the attraction. Yes, there are real live crocodiles in some inhabitant parts of Belitong. Now, think I need to reconsider to swim along the calm river of Gantong. It’d be better if I’m taking the cruise instead and still able to greet the crocodiles safely from the boat.
“Sedang apa, Bang?”
That man asked what I was doing. He must have been surprised to see me kneeling by the sidewalk (while my friends were already away). At first I thought he was talking to someone else in his dialect. Besides, I was too busy looking at the streaming water in the ditch alongside the street. The water was so clear I could see the channel bottom. That was something I’d rarely seen in life, especially for those who have been living in metropolitan & surrounding area.
Knowing what I was doing, that man laughed out loud. He said even in the rainy season, local people have been able to wash their vehicles with an abundant supply of clear water from the ditch. I was so amazed.
I hope Gantong is always ganteng like this, I said to myself. Never thought that a simple morning walk in this little town would meet me with the inner beauty of cultural diversity & natural resources. I love Gantong, I love Indonesia!
*more on Belitong Culinary please click here