Back to Biak (3): A Calm Urban Life

Fast as a snail, swift as a turtle, that’s life in Biak. Nothing too fancy or too hype happens in this small island. It’s as calm as the grave, as dull as your 9 to 5 weekdays.

So, you finally get the picture of how slow life in Biak and still wondering what does it look like in a busy street downtown during midday? If you compare the chaotic Sudirman street in Jakarta to streets in Biak during rush hour, it’s just like watching a sloth race in a slow motion. There’s probably no life on the street, but up in the sky, the cloud formation is always “alive” and fascinating.

When I visited my old neighborhood (Yos Sudarso street & Muhammad Yamin street),  it was as “crowded” as it supposed to be. After 7 PM, these roads would be a nice place for Hannibal Lecter to kidnap his dinner. Also, I found that my favorite coto restaurant didn’t change much. It had the same interior layout like 17 years ago with the same chairs, the same menu, the same ambiance. Plain and unchanged.

If you want to look for some action, just take a walk toward port of Biak, it’s a 10-minute walk from downtown. The port is small but if you’re lucky enough, there could be something quite interesting. I was lucky then, upon my arrival, the activities were pretty much alive: a ship repair in progress, a mobile crane was moving the containers, labors were loading and unloading goods.

After took some pictures and a short chitchat with the officers in duty, I walked to the east. Accidentally, I found a small port approximately 600 meters from the port of Biak. It was full of  fishing boats, a few patrol boats and speedboats. I spent 10 minutes around when a motor-powered fisherman’s boat approached the port, at first it didn’t seem special, but I was curious what was on that boat as they came closer. Apparently, the boat was carrying a special cargo full of sago and banana….lots of them.

Okay, back to the street.

After leaving the small port, I strolled toward Baiturrahman mosque. It was located near downtown, the biggest mosque in Biak and could held thousands of people in its busy days, thus people called it the grand mosque. Not bad for a small city on a remote tiny island somewhere in Papua. Its tower was the tallest structure in the island for decades (around 20 meters) and its dome was a big solid concrete work, until a magnitude 7.9 earthquake in 1996 shook the island and destroyed the dome, the tower, and some of its structures. Now the tower is replaced by a wooden structure half of its original height and the massive concrete dome is replaced by a tiny dome made from stainless steel plates.

Back in my school days, one of the most exciting events in Biak was a parade. There were costumes, props, and enthusiast crowds. The big city guys thought it was lame, but for the islanders, a parade was quite important. Every time there was an event or important holiday like independence day, there would be a parade, with marching bands.

It wasn’t just a marching band. Nope, in the parade, marching band was the popular attraction, the main highlight.  Majorette, a marching band leader, was usually a tall good-looking girl, and most of the majorettes were popular girls in school. A kind of girl you wanna date and as a bragging material to your unlucky, loser friends. Marching band was the social barometer, at least back in my childhood. If you were a kid in Biak and never played an instrument in the marching band, you’re nothing.

Life in Biak, a small island in the Pacific Ocean, is slow-paced, plain, and boring. But what’s best from the banality in this remote tropical island is people have a tendency to live a calm, peaceful life. It’s a lot less complicated and that’s why people in Biak always appreciate small things with great joy.


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