Just outside the city of Lasem in Central Java, where the Chinese first set foot to build their trading network and contribute to the local community, a sleepy small fishermen village of Dasun suddenly went alive with the arrival of a bunch of men on their noisy motorcycles. No, they meant no harm. They were the local artists and heritage activists striving to preserve the local culture. But even activists needed a break and Dasun was chosen for a good reason: a 24-hour home-turned-cafe serving Lelet Coffee, the core raw material for the Cigarette Batik Art.
Several cups of coffee came along with some suspicious-looking equipment: a bottle of condensed milk, tissues, sewing thread, matches, and a wooden bar. What could they be for?
Without hesitation, the gang hurrily set aside their coffee and started to work. First they poured the Lelet Coffee into a plate and took out the sand-like coffee waste by absorbing the liquid using the tissues. Then the condensed milk was poured and mixed as a binding agent. All set. With a cigarette and a piece of charred match at hand, they began creating artwork.
As with several things in the world, the art is ephemeral in nature. Those men crafted batik patterns on every piece of cigarette solely to channel their inherent artistic sense as well as to add the coffee sensation to each sip. They will be no more in minutes.
Many Faces of Lasem
Lasem is part of Rembang in Central Java province, around 3 hour-journey east of Semarang. For the residents and visitors, Lasem has many faces.
It was once the heart of the Chinese community with immigrants from the mainland coming in to work, settle down, and later marry the locals. Even today the Chinese community still maintains a strong cultural identity which has drifted significantly from the origin with influence from their Javanese neighbors. The Chinatown is undoubtedly the main reason for people to come. It is relatively untouched by revitalization which makes it bitter sweet as many buildings are left untouched for several years and the ageing process is taking its toll. It is easy to enjoy the Chinatown: just go into any alley and observe the surroundings of Chinese and colonial style buildings guarded by thick white wall fences. I did, and the vibrant energy of spices and opium trade slowly rushed in.
This town is also home to the vibrant Muslim communities which maintain pious doctrines but at the same time are able to live in harmony with their Chinese brothers and sisters. There is even a Pesantren, a boarding school for Muslim students, inside the Chinatown with Chinese Muslims as their scholars. Or the prehistoric and Majapahit era which are slowly being uncovered as the residents find evidences of the past civilizations after digging their backyards. And let’s not forget the small indigenous Buddhist community living on the mountains overlooking Lasem with their own vihara. Every visitor to this town will meet a different Lasem and have a unique personal experience with it. I surely did with the Cigarette Batik Art.
From Semarang’s Terboyo terminal, hop on to any bus departing for Surabaya and ask the driver to drop you off at the ‘Masjid Besar’ (Grand Mosque) intersection in Lasem. Some hotels are available within 50 meters so you can ask around for room rates. You can get around Lasem to visit Lawang Ombo, Rumah Tegel, the Chinatown, and other sites by renting the motorcycles or hire a becak (rickshaw).
Obviously one blog post is not enough to share you the story of Lasem. So, see you in another post. 😀