On March 12 Indonesia celebrated Hari Raya Nyepi — the Balinese “Day of Silence” — a national public holiday. My campus was completely empty because of the occasion, save for the friendly security guard keeping post at the school’s front gate. To pass the time, I hired an ojek — a motorcycle taxi — for the day to take me around Palembang with the stated goal of capturing everyday life in the dense, sprawling city.
My first stop was a pier near Palembang’s iconic Ampera Bridge, which connects the city across the historically important Musi River in a fashion resembling San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge (locals won’t let you forget the comparison). Upon arrival, a quartet of twenty-somethings approached me and my ojek driver and asked if we’d like to join them on a trip down the river to Kemaro Island, a somewhat touristy home to a legend-making Buddhist temple and a place where Chinese Indonesians still go to pray during Chinese New Year festivities. “Kami sudah bayar,” the strangers insisted to my suspicious driver. We’ve already paid. He relented and after locking up his motorbike at his aunt’s nearby shack, we shoved off.
Teenage boys pose for the camera outside a small wooden house floating near the banks of the Musi River.
Men pass the time along the waterfront of the Musi River.
Just a few minutes into our journey, we stopped briefly at a wooden shack along the shallow banks of the river to refill our boat’s gas tank. Before a man came outside the house to sell us some petrol, his little boy stared me down calmly, coolly, as if sizing me — an obvious foreigner — up. The fierceness in his eyes, seemingly devoid of innocence, belied his young age.
A rickety passenger boat proudly bearing Indonesia’s national flag — affectionately known as the “merah-putih” to natives — cruises down the Musi River.
A helmsman takes a nap inside his boat resting idly at the small port attached to Kemaro Island.
About the author: Dustin Volz is a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant based in Palembang, South Sumatra. He is editor in chief of Indonesiaful and a publisher of Downtown Devil, a hyper-local news publication covering the downtown Phoenix community. Volz graduated from Arizona State University in 2012 with bachelor’s degrees in journalism and history and a master’s degree in mass communication. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.