Medan, the main city of Sumatra, is not a hotbed of tourism. It is 50 miles to the beach and there is little to nothing of cultural significance. All day, I didn’t see another foreigner.
We started out at the Great Mosque. Just in time for midday prayers. Carsten was wearing shorts so he had to put on a sarong but I had brought my own scarf for my head. Since people were praying we didn’t go inside. It was pretty enough but not really out of the ordinary. Casablanca spoiled my for impressive mosques.
It was at the palace where we really started to get noticed. The palace isn’t really all that special. It is a hindered years old, brightly painted and there is some antique furniture. The real draw seems to be that most of the inside space is taken up by a shop renting traditional royal costume.
We wandered in. Left to our own devices we probably would have stayed for only ten minutes or so. The space that is open to the public is quite small and there is little to no English explanation of. well, anything and without context nothing seemed all that impressive.
We were the only foreigners there. There was some staring but most people were about their own business. Until a pair of girls gathered up the courage to ask or motion us to be a photo. “OF course. Of course.” We replied.
That started the avalanched. Person after person… group after group. Old people, babies, whole families, and everyone in between. Pictures with one person, pictures with, like, five generations of a family. A line formed. Some people can back for seconds or thirds. It took an hour to edge ourselves back to the stairs. And that’s when the interviews started.
Teenagers. Claiming they were interviewing us for a class. Which they might have been. Perhaps in their English class there was a long term assignment to interview any foreigner that they happened to come across. Most had a list of questions on their phones but some had printouts. While a friend videoed the interview they asked us what our favorite food was, what we thought about Indonesia, What the future of Indonesia might hold, how old was I, What was my religion, my full name, favorite color and if I could sing an Indonesian song.
People were genuinely excited to see us. One girl was overcome by giggles before during and after every question that she answered. They didn’t always understand the answers. Sometimes, they didn’t understand the questions they were asking. Occasionally, they had prescripted responses, such as “Wow”, which they would read in the same tone of voice as they asked where I was from. Seven or eight times before we got off the palace grounds.
We retreated to a coffeehouse next to it but the kids found us again. If fact while while I was writing in my notebook about this, we were interrupted twice by girls wanting to interview me. At that moment Casteen was being interviewed again. It was adorable beyond all reason. All in all, I am fairly confident that we were in literally hundreds of photos. It was cute but exhausting. Maybe celebrity is not for me.