When the traveller arrives in Semarang, they encounter Java’s usual tropes: plenty of traffic, remnants of a colonial past – Dutch, in this case – and the general comings and goings of a busy port town. After all, this is Indonesia’s seventh most populous city and no shrinking violet. It throbs in the same manner as a ventricle, and the low-end drone of more-or-less constant traffic rarely abates. Semarang is no place for the seeker of solitude.
It’s a surprise, then, to stumble across Kampung Pelangai. A small village close to Lewang Sewu – a former railway headquarters replete with wartime ghosts – it shines like a beacon amidst the city’s thrumming chaos. The premise is simple: a roadside locale, in a bid to promote well-being and create a colourful outlook, is cleaned up. One life-affirmingly positive lick of paint later and voila: thus appeareth the Rainbow Village.
This is no haven or bubble within which the secret of life itself resides. Instead, its magic lies in an agreeable ambience. At one end of the village lies a tent and its attendant callisthenics classes; at the other, craftsmen create their wares well into the night. Colourful murals complete a vibrant scene as the air crackles with the pulse of creativity. Such is the warm welcome of Kampung Pelangai.