How Tech Startups Are Latin America’s Diamond in the Rough

By Yoke Clara Yansim / August 24, 2021

In Latin America, the tech industry sees several unicorns make impressive progress in growing their companies and obtaining funding. The pandemic was a key driver for the success of a few startups. However, tedious bureaucratic processes, among other things, continue to present challenges in the startup scene.

Latin America is a region full of untapped potential. It has a large workforce, its economy had industrialised earlier, but its GDP grows more slowly than other emerging economies today. World Bank data shows that most countries in the region fall under the upper-middle-income range, indicating that the purchasing power is there. Yet, its middle class, though expanding, is still relatively small. 

The root of the problem, according to a 2019 McKinsey report, is a lack of dynamism. Latin America suffers from a large gap between the majority of unproductive small firms and a handful of massive firms. The report suggested that investment in new technologies is one solution to achieve inclusive growth.

Fortunately, changes are already underway as the tech industry in Latin America is likely to expand rapidly soon. 

Currently, over 1,000 tech companies have raised more than $1 million each. The region saw a record number of venture capital deals last year, receiving $4.1 billion from investors, according to the Association for Private Capital Investment in Latin America (LAVCA).

Tech Unicorns in Latin America

Of all Latin American startups, financial technology (FinTech) makes up the majority of them at 29 per cent.

So, it is no surprise that one of the region’s “unicorns” – that is, startups valued at more than $1 billion – is a Brazil-based digital bank. Founded in 2013, Nubank is now the largest startup in the region, revolutionising the Brazilian banking industry notorious for its poor customer service and high fees. 

Rappi, a Colombian delivery app, is another well-funded startup. The company began its services with beverage delivery before expanding to other products, including food, groceries, technology products and medicines. After the pandemic spurred its growth last year, the company is now valued at more than $3.5 billion. In July, Rappi also partnered with Visa Inc to offer financial services in Brazil, which the company believes will complement its delivery app.

La Haus is also Colombia-based, and it just secured $100 million in additional funding, including from Acrew Capital and Bezos Expeditions. Unlike Rappi, La Haus’ goal is to help solve the region’s “extreme housing inequality” by improving the ease of purchasing homes. Ultimately, it hopes to use technology to better match the supply and demand for new housing. 

Also worth mentioning is Mexico’s Kavak, a platform that advertises used cars. Many used car transactions in Latin America are informal, which makes them prone to fraud, according to Kavak’s CEO Carlos García Ottati. Kavak thus aimed to solve a problem: the lack of transparency and security in the used car market.

That’s not all. The region’s massive potential has also begun to attract overseas startups looking to expand their consumer base. 

Southeast Asia’s largest e-commerce platform, Shopee, recently established its presence in Brazil, on top of launching an “asset-light” pilot programme in Chile and Colombia. Brazil may even overtake Indonesia as the platform’s biggest market in the future, Tech in Asia wrote.

Nevertheless, Shopee’s Argentinian competitor, Mercado Libre, remains dominant in the region. In the second quarter of this year, the company’s net revenue leapt by 93.9 per cent, well beyond analysts expected. 

That the company grew despite the uncertainties of the pandemic is no coincidence. Indeed, the pandemic was a key driver for this growth. As physical retail became infeasible, many younger shoppers turned to online shopping and transactions – a trend that benefitted quite a few tech startups in the region.

Challenges Ahead

Still, companies continue to face several challenges in setting up business in Latin America. 

For example, bureaucratic processes in the region are tedious due to the lack of digitisation and automation. Business owners can only submit applications and documentation in person rather than online, hindering foreign businesses that seek entry into the Latin American market.

The business environment also favours a longer-term presence, demanding entrepreneurs to adopt a hands-on approach and develop personal relationships. 

Additionally, the investment culture is in its infancy, and there is a significant language barrier.

Finally, when some of these startups finish riding the pandemic wave, can they continue to thrive? What should governments do to cultivate the startup scene in Latin America?

This article was written for Loop Media.

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Is Liberal Democracy Dead?

By Yoke Clara Yansim / August 21, 2021

As the Cold War drew to a close, Francis Fukuyama proclaimed the victory of Western liberal democracy and capitalism. However, global freedom has been steadily on the decline for more than a decade. 

As the Cold War drew to a close, Francis Fukuyama’s famous 1989 article “The End of History?” proclaimed the victory of liberal democracy and capitalism. Fukuyama argued that the freedom advocated by the US and its allies was the final destination of all people, and totalitarianism had lost the ideological war.

But others were not so optimistic. 

Fukuyama’s prediction for the “end of history” hinged on the assumption that history moves linearly, that the future is an extrapolation of contemporary trends. This prediction, however, may be premature. Louis Menand wrote in The New Yorker that the present would create “backlashes and reshuffling of the social deck”.

The State of Liberal Democracy Now

The 1990s saw the US’ biggest Cold War enemies, Russia and China, seemingly on a path towards political and economic liberalism, but the reality cannot be further today. China under Xi Jinping’s rule has obliterated all hopes of it democratising domestically, contrary to Larry Diamond’s prediction in 2012. Vladimir Putin’s presidency in Russia also reversed whatever little progress the country has made in democratic transition

If anything, the examples of China and Russia illustrate a rising trend of personalist authoritarianism. In such a system, decision-making is concentrated in one person with few checks and balances. The personalist trend is also seen in democracies, creating “delegative” or “illiberal” democracies. 

Freedom House reported that 2020 was the 15th consecutive year of global freedom deterioration. Far from the situation in the early 2010s, authoritarian regimes that had embarked on some form of liberalisation – Thailand and Myanmar, for example – have backslid towards authoritarianism and failed to consolidate as democracies. Borrowing from Samuel P. Huntington, it seems that the third reverse wave of democratisation is here.

This gradual decline reinforces the notion that liberal democracy is losing ground around the world, especially its effectiveness as a political system. 

The indecisiveness of democracies at the beginning of the pandemic illustrates the apparent problem: liberal democracy is impractical in a crisis, while autocracy delivers results. The deliberative style of democratic decision-making, though beneficial under normal circumstances, seems unnecessarily limiting compared to the swiftness of autocracy.

However, further evidence shows that democracies are no less capable than autocracies of acting firmly if necessary. Democracies perform better in the long run due to their accountability to the people. In containing coronavirus, democracies are more likely to use proportionate measures in terms of freedom restrictions, according to the Freedom House.

Democracy Is Not Dead

Though in decline, the idea of liberal democracy is still an aspiration for many people. Mass protests for democracy around the world continue to grow despite increased repression. 

The Winston Churchill quote comes to mind: “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”

In your opinion, is liberal democracy necessarily the ideal form of governance? Is there appeal in autocracy?

This article was written for Loop Media.

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What Political Correctness Should Not Be

By Yoke Clara Yansim / August 9, 2021

“Political correctness” is the act of avoiding offensive language, but the term itself is controversial. The main failing of political correctness is that it assumes a moral superiority that does not encourage meaningful debates.

“Political correctness” (PC), or the act of avoiding offensive language, is not a bad thing. 

For one, it has brought about much progress in the way society views and talks about issues, particularly regarding sex, gender or race. New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg pointed out, political correctness often creates new norms and language that are more inclusive and sensitive, despite the initial awkwardness.

There is even some scientific evidence behind this: a study conducted in 2012 by a team of organisational behaviour researchers in the US found that PC culture encourages new ideas in heterogeneous groups as minority members are more open to sharing.

Political correctness, therefore, raises the bar for proper conduct, so why does the term have negative connotations?

The flaw of PC culture is – I believe – its tendency to assume rightness, with no room for alternative opinions even for issues that have not achieved widespread consensus.

How then should we manage political correctness to ensure that we reap its benefits instead of falling into its traps?

1. Political correctness should not be all about censorship and “cancelling”.

Political correctness is increasingly associated with the “cancel culture”, that is, the act of calling out and rejecting individuals or organisations for wrongful behaviour. 

As Aja Romano wrote on Vox, the act of cancelling is rooted in the idea of holding people in positions of power accountable. Often, this is a consequence of “politically incorrect” behaviour. 

However, cancel culture has a big problem: it often lacks the nuance required to tackle complex issues. Because cancel culture frames debates in a binary manner (whether ‘for’ or against’), it tends to stifle constructive deliberation. Not only that, the concern for political correctness frequently stops a debate even before it can begin, erasing the opportunity for people to discuss important issues for fear of offending certain groups of people. 

And because much of cancelling happens on the Internet, the capacity for a nuanced discussion is further limited due to people’s extremely short attention spans. The CEO of Twitter, Jack Dorsey, acknowledged in 2018 that the social media platform was not a good place for a healthy discussion amid criticisms of the platform being toxic. 

As such, there should be more effort to encourage educational and non-absolutist discussions beyond cancelling and censorship.

2. Political correctness should not be a fixed set of principles.

Unfortunately, political correctness is often treated as if it is universal – a set of indisputable values applicable to all humankind.

Well-intentioned activists who advocate for PC behaviours often forget that values vary according to culture and time. While PC culture promotes common ideals such as inclusivity, political correctness is not an excuse to speak for everyone, disregarding the specific circumstances of others. 

Furthermore, a fixed notion of political correctness only intensifies the polarisation between the two extremes (such as between the “woke” or “conservative” groups), creating an unproductive dichotomy that fails to move the debate forward. 

3. Political correctness should not be political at all.

For all its flaws, the essence of political correctness is human decency.

Although political correctness has encouraged a particular way of expressing oneself publicly, there is no telling whether their internal belief has indeed changed as a result. This is why politically correct language often appears inauthentic.

As mentioned above, we should focus more on cultivating sincerity and respect rather than merely avoiding uncomfortable issues.

How do you feel about political correctness? Should we disregard political correctness altogether?

This article was written for Loop Media.

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Sanctions and Their Value in Foreign Policy

By Yoke Clara Yansim / July 29, 2021

Sanctions are negative economic instruments designed to force a foreign government to change particular policies. Sanctions are preferable to direct military threats, but they can also be counterproductive.

In 2019, the then-US President Donald Trump unveiled a poster of himself with a text that said: “SANCTIONS ARE COMING”. 

As the most powerful state, the US is not shy to project its power through economic sanctions. Recently, the Cuban government blamed US sanctions for the ongoing protests, claiming that the trade embargo exacerbates one of the worst crises in the country. 

Here, we will unpack what sanctions are and why they are appealing as a foreign policy tool.

What Are Sanctions?

Sanctions are negative foreign policy instruments that create painful economic losses to achieve particular goals, such as changing the domestic or foreign policies of the target country, according to political scientist Michael Mastanduno. For example, the US trade embargo against Cuba in the 1960s aimed to undermine Fidel Castro’s communist regime by ceasing the trading relationship between the US and Cuba.

Since world economies became more interdependent in the 20th-century, sanctions have become more attractive. Because of the open structure of the global economy today, there is now ample opportunity for governments to use economic pressure to change the behaviour of other countries, Mastanduno writes. 

Economic sanctions usually provide a middle ground between military action and no action, making it the weapon of choice for many states.

Are Sanctions Effective?

It depends.

On its own, it is difficult for sanctions to sufficiently inflict economic pain on the target country as there are alternative trading partners.

Shu Guang Zhang’s book Economic Cold War concluded that the sanctions imposed by the US and its Western allies against the People’s Republic of China in the 1950s were largely ineffective. China, in reality, had the option to link its economy more closely with the Soviet Union (up until the collapse of the Sino-Soviet alliance, at least).

North Korea similarly circumvents United Nations Security Council (UNSC) sanctions by deepening ties with China. Instead of punishing the Kim regime, the sanctions produced the opposite effect. One, sanctions encouraged self-sufficiency, with North Korea reducing their dependence on trade and redirecting its exports towards domestic consumption. Two, they created the rally-round-the-flag effect, where the citizens of the target country feel a sense of solidarity due to the perception of an external threat.

Furthermore, the sanctioning state also bears the costs of economic sanctions, not only the target state.

That is not to say that sanctions are ineffective, especially when combined with other foreign policy tools as part of a broader framework. They can accomplish some goals, even if not all. The UN sanctions on Iraq in the 1990s were at least successful in containing Saddam Hussein and reducing its military and economic capabilities, although Iraq was not fully compliant.

Unintended Victims

However, another problem of economic sanctions remains: innocent people, rather than the government of the target state, often bear the brunt of the sanctions. The humanitarian crisis that followed the sanctions on Iraq eventually eroded international public support, bringing into question the justness of sanctions.

Governments thus increasingly depend on “smart” (or targeted) sanctions that focus more on individual persons or companies. Several Cambodian elites, for example, were found by Reuters to be placed on a “visa blacklist” in 2017 by the US State Department that banned them from travelling to the US.

Are sanctions useful in foreign policy? Under what circumstances is the imposition of sanctions justified? Should countries exercise more restraint in employing sanctions?

This article was written for Loop Media.

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Is Rwanda the New Singapore Yet?

By Yoke Clara Yansim / July 12, 2021

Rwanda wants to emulate the economic success of Singapore and has mostly succeeded in doing so. However, concerns over democratic freedom may overshadow the country’s economic achievements.

President Paul Kagame has a vision for his country. He wants Rwanda to emulate the economic success of Singapore – a tiny city-state that has beaten the odds to become a bustling business hub and one of the four “Asian Tigers”. 

In many ways, it seems like Rwanda is set on the right developmental path, but not without challenges ahead.

A Troubled History

Rwanda has had a dark past. The East African nation endured a five-year civil war between the government and the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) rebels from 1990 to 1994. It ultimately culminated in one of the most outrageous mass atrocities in history, when the nationalist Hutu ethnic majority launched a genocide against people mainly from the Tutsi minority. 

Even before this bloody chapter, Rwanda had already been experiencing an economic crisis since 1985 caused by a sharp decline in its coffee prices and terms of trade, made worse by IMF structural adjustment programmes (SAPs) in 1990. 

The year 1994, when the genocide occurred, saw a significant fall in GDP of more than 40 per cent in the country, wrecking the lives of its predominantly peasant farmer population. 

Given these trials and tribulations, Rwanda’s subsequent economic growth since then becomes all the more impressive.

Recovery and the Singapore Model

Kagame, whose government assumed power after the genocide, became a stabilising force in the country that allowed economic production to resume, according to Rwandan political commentator Frederick Golloba-Mutebi. Since 2000, Rwanda has enjoyed more than 7 per cent average GDP growth annually.

The president also set Rwanda on a path to achieve the Middle-Income Country (MIC) status by 2035 to become the “Singapore of Africa”. 

Like Singapore, Rwanda is a relatively small country in the region with scarce natural resources.

And just like Singapore, it is focused on improving human capital and transforming its economy towards a knowledge-based economy. These include providing its people with access to information and communication technologies (ICTs) to create a skilled workforce, such as through the One Laptop Per Child Programme launched in 2008.

The World Bank ranks the country at 38th for ease of doing business in 2020, particularly in registering property, getting credit and enforcing contracts. Its conducive business climate has fostered an emerging startup culture, supported by the government’s upcoming national Startup Acts.

The country also does not neglect investments in core economic sectors, such as agriculture, energy and mining. 

Most strikingly, Rwanda puts a high premium on inclusivity and gender equality. It boasts one of the highest proportions of women in the national parliament at 61 per cent, far above the global average of 25 per cent. 

Rwanda’s Future Challenges

Despite efforts to follow Singapore’s economic blueprint, a significant difference between the two countries remains. Rwanda, as a landlocked country, lacks the strategic geography of Singapore as a port city. 

Many also worry that Rwanda’s economic success comes along with a democratic deficit; that the government’s performance legitimises its authoritarian rule. 

This claim is not unfounded, considering that President Kagame has drawn inspiration from Singapore’s founding father, Lee Kuan Yew, whose governance was characterised by a mix of autocracy with free-market capitalism. 

Lee also had a lengthy political tenure of more than 50 years in various top positions. One can draw a parallel between Lee and Kagame, when the latter sought a third presidential term in 2017 after a referendum lifted the two-term presidential limit in the Rwandan constitution.

Do you think Rwanda has already become the new Singapore? What are your thoughts on Rwanda’s future economy?

This article was written for Loop Media.

Cover image credit: Matador Network

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Force-Feeding in Mauritania: Where Size Matters
Will Authoritarianism Defeat Gen Z Activism?

Force-Feeding in Mauritania: Where Size Matters

By Yoke Clara Yansim / July 9, 2021

Obesity is a sign of beauty in Mauritania, and the practice of force-feeding is prevalent among young girls. However, it carries numerous health and social risks for young girls and women in Mauritania.

In a male-dominated society, a woman’s attractiveness to men becomes a measurement of her worth.

While this is true for most societies today, the pursuit of attractiveness is taken to its physical extremes in the Northwest African country of Mauritania. There, people perceive obesity as a sign of beauty: an aspiration, but also an obsession.

The Practice of Leblouh

Leblouh, or the practice of force-feeding, is common among nomadic Arabs in Mauritania, especially after the traditionalist military government took over the country in 2008. 

In this part of the globe, fat women—and indeed girls—are seen as beautiful and desirable. 

Girls as young as five years old are sent to “fattening farms”, where older women force them to consume about 9,000 calories daily during “feeding seasons”. This number is almost double the calorie intake of a heavyweight boxer, and it can go up to 16,000 calories by the end of the three-month feeding season. 

The meals consist of high-calorie foods, such as camel milk and couscous. When food is scarce, drugs meant for livestock can also be used to fatten these girls. 

It is no surprise that this force-feeding practice is also often known as gavage, as in the process of fattening ducks and geese for foie gras. 

To what end?

In the rural poverty-stricken areas of Mauritania, being fat symbolises wealth and status, thereby making it more likely for girls to be married off to wealthy men. 

Unreported World reported that around one-quarter of Mauritanian women experience force-feeding. In rural areas, it can come close to three-quarters, according to a study by the Social Solidarity Association in 2007

To Mauritanian mothers, gavage is a practical act of love. Although it seems cruel to outsiders, women tend to perpetuate this practice voluntarily. Simply put, the fatter their daughters are, the better their chances are at marriage and consequently a good life. 

However, a study conducted by Philip Pendergast and Adenife Modile has shown that this increased benefit is only marginal and comes at a disproportionate cost.

Health and Social Risks

With such colossal calorie intake, obesity and the associated long-term health risks, such as diabetes, heart problems and kidney failure, are sure to follow. Worse, the often illegally distributed drugs given to girls for fattening purposes may cause death in some cases.

Gavage is also closely related to child marriages. Pre-pubescent girls are force-fed to make them look older, allowing them to get married earlier. Often, these child marriages result in pregnancy and childbirth complications.

The practice of force-feeding itself carries substantial direct physical harm. For example, girls who refuse to eat are beaten or tied, while others even have their fingers broken.

On a broader level, the beauty standards created by leblouh are disparaging to the self-image of women and girls who have to prioritise the male gaze rather than their own physical and mental well-being. Their approval by society—and men in particular—seems to justify their lack of autonomy over their bodies or choice of partners. 

To Gavage or Not to Gavage?

Gavage is difficult to eradicate due to its deep roots in the Mauritanian tradition. However, younger women have been pushing back against it, expressing a desire for physical fitness and fewer health problems. The increased influx of foreign influences has also slowly contributed to changing perceptions about diet in the country.

Do you think gavage is defensible on practical and cultural grounds? Will it continue to be replicated, or will it finally be rejected by Gen Z? Finally, will the body positivity movement popular in the West gain traction among Mauritanian women? If so, how can it be adapted to the Mauritanian context?

This article was written for Loop Media.

Cover image credit: Inside Arabia

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Will Authoritarianism Defeat Gen Z Activism?

By Yoke Clara Yansim / June 30, 2021

Who Is Gen Z?

When you think of Generation Z, “tech-savvy” is probably one of the words that first come to mind. But it has become clear that Gen Z—defined as the generation born from 1997 onwards—possesses another defining trait: “woke”, as they say, or socially conscious.

Gen Z youths insist on being educated about social issues, from micro, identity-based ones (such as race, religion and sexuality) to macro ones (such as the environment). 

Unlike the apathetic Millennials, Gen Z cares. Members of Gen Z care about people and the future, and they are outspoken about it.

And as digital natives, their natural ability to navigate the Internet, whether to gather numbers or access information, puts them at an advantage in social movements.

Gen Z’s Activism Around the World

Today, many young people are at the forefront of social media activism, just as freedom of expression comes increasingly under attack globally

In Algeria, the Hirak movement utilised social media in 2019 to protest the presidency of Abdelaziz Bouteflika, ultimately leading to his resignation after having been in power for almost 20 years. The youth-led protest was successful partly because social media helped young Algerians “break the wall of fear” and exposed them to life outside their own country, according to Brahim Oumansour, a researcher at the Institute of International and Strategic Relations (IRIS). 

Nevertheless, while the COVID-19 pandemic has heightened this trend towards digital activism, more Gen Z youths have also taken their concerns to the streets. 

The so-called Milk Tea Alliance in Asia, mainly consisting of young pro-democracy protesters in Myanmar, Thailand, Hong Kong and Taiwan, started as an online meme war in early 2020.  This pan-Asian alliance eventually turned into full-blown organised protests against autocratic governments, whether the Burmese military junta, the Thai monarchy or the Chinese authoritarian regime. 

Since then, young people from other Asian countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia have joined the movement. Thanks to social media, this display of long-distance solidarity is possible.

Between 2019 and 2020, Iranians protested in what was called “Bloody November”, where the people expressed their anger towards increasing fuel prices and government corruption. Turkish people have also recently protested against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s decision to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention. Elsewhere, African youths are demanding their gerontocrats for social and political reforms due to scarce job opportunities. 

However, from Asia to the Middle East to Africa, members of Gen Z who speak up are being suppressed by authoritarian governments.

Future of Gen Z Activism

One common way governments respond to these protests is through social media censorship. For instance, the regime of President Yoweri Museveni blocked social media in Uganda on top of arresting and killing protesters. A similar thing happened in Myanmar in February 2021, when the military government proposed a new cybersecurity law that would allow authorities to access private information from social media platforms. 

Yet despite these governments’ efforts to crack down on freedom of expression online, they are no match for the digitally adept Gen Z youths who know how to circumvent the rules, such as using VPNs and different SIM cards. 

Still, others doubt Gen Z’s ability to create change, accusing them of “slacktivism” or being too idealistic.

How effective do you think Gen Z youths are in their activism efforts? Will they win their fight against—and despite—authoritarianism?

This article was written for Loop Media.

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10 Medanese Dishes I Miss the Most As a Local & How To Find Them

By Yoke Clara Yansim / June 22, 2021

Medanese Cuisines You Must Try

We have established that Medan, the third largest metropolitan city of Indonesia, is a place of great history and culture. The city is home to at least five major ethnic groups, including Batak, Malay, Javanese, Chinese and Minangkabau. Unsurprisingly, its diversity has given rise to many delicious and unique local cuisines.

Here is a list of 10 best Medanese dishes written by someone who was born and raised there.

1. Batak cuisine

Image credit: @butomop

Batak people constitute more than one-third of the Medanese population, and they are predominantly Christian, unlike most of the rest of the Muslim-majority Indonesia. Batak cuisine is characterised by strong savoury flavours prepared by a variety of methods. 

Saksang, for example, is a dish where the pork is stewed in its blood (yes, you heard that right), spiced and seasoned in andaliman, onion, garlic, lime and other spices. Trust me, the dish is wonderful. It is often served during traditional Batak activities, but you can find it in the many Batak restaurants sprawling across the city.

If blood-stewed pork isn’t your thing, there are other cooking styles of Batak cuisine that are more palatable to most people. Babi Panggang Karo (BPK) – or Karo roasted pork – is another popular local dish. The pork can also be deep-fried, turning its uppermost fatty layer crispy.

While you’re at it, have some arsik (spicy fish dish) and daun ubi (cassava leaves), too.

Deep-fried pork
Image credit: @thefoodstreetjournal

Where you can find it: Dapur Batak Roma, Jl. Pabrik Tenun No. 54, Medan, North Sumatra, Indonesia

Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday, 10AM – 6PM

2. Kwetiau goreng (stir-fried flat rice noodles)

Usually accompanied by green chili sauce, kwetiau goreng is a staple local Chinese-style dish with the flavourful aroma that is only possible when a dish is fried in a wok. It’s perfect for any meal of the day, and you can choose whether you want to have it stir-fried with seafood and meat, with only eggs, or even plain. 

A “complete” kwetiau goreng
Image credit: @lhfooddiaries

Where you can find it: Jl. Selat Panjang No. 12, Medan, North Sumatra, Indonesia

3. Nasi goreng (fried rice)

Fried rice is not the most unique dish in the Southeast Asian region. However, Medan’s vibrant Padang-style fried rice with its slices of beef, omelette and spicy undertone is the perfect supper meal. 

Image credit: @horizonhoman

Where you can find it: Nasi Goreng Semalam Suntuk, Jl. Brigjend Katamso, opposite the Maimun Palace, Medan, North Sumatra, Indonesia

Opening hours: Everyday, 7PM – 12AM

4. Martabak manis (sweet pancake)

Don’t be fooled by its name, martabak manis is nothing like Western pancakes. Often sold at roadside stalls, this Indonesian dessert is more akin to a type of spongy pastry that makes the child in you jump with joy as soon as you bite into it. 

Traditionally, it has chocolate fillings that can be complemented by cheese and peanuts, if you so please. Its creamy texture makes it a heavenly, sweet and savoury delicacy that you absolutely need to try.

Image credit:

Where you can find it: Martabak Mekar, Jl. Prof. HM. Yamin SH No. 92C, Medan, North Sumatra, Indonesia

Opening hours: Everyday, 1PM – 10PM

5. Putu bambu (bamboo steamed rice cake)

Putu bambu is downright my favourite snack ever. It is made of rice flour on the outside and palm sugar on the inside, steamed in bamboo tubes and finally, sprinkled with grated coconut. Its simple but delightful aroma makes putu bambu the perfect accompaniment to your afternoon tea.

Image credit: What To Cook Today

Where you can find it: Juadah Mamboria, Jl. Gatot Subroto, Medan, North Sumatra, Indonesia

Opening hours: Everyday, 12AM – 12:30PM, 5:30PM – 12AM

6. Nasi Padang (Padang rice)

Nasi Padang is an Indonesian dish originated by the Minangkabau people. In a typical Padang restaurant, pre-cooked dishes typically served all at once, and then you can choose what you like from the various choices. (You may return the dishes you don’t wish to try, and you only pay for what you eat.)

What you must try is gulai, or the curry-like sauce that makes you relish every spoon of rice that you take. Some chicken or fish is also essential, along with some prawn crackers. Together, you get the most unforgettable meal with a taste that lingers in your mouth days after you leave Medan.

Image credit: MakanMana

Where you can find it: Gumarang Jaya, Jl. Brigjend Katamso No. 27C, A U R, Medan, North Sumatra, Indonesia

Opening hours: Everyday, 10AM – 8:30PM

7. Sate Padang (Padang satay)

Sate Padang is another Padang cuisine that has contributed to Medan’s rich repertoire of local dishes. It’s often served with lontong, a form of rice cake that substitutes for rice, doused in a thick, spicy sauce, and sprinkled with shallots as a final touch. The satay can be made from various meats, like chicken, mutton, beef or even scallop.

Where you can find it: Sate Padang Triadi, Jl. Malaka No. 30, Medan, North Sumatra, Indonesia

Opening hours: Everyday, 3PM – 10PM

8. Tip Top Restaurant

Tip Top Restaurant deserves a section on its own because of the establishment’s long history. It had its beginnings as a bakery that was opened in 1929, survived the WWII and has since earned its status as one of the oldest restaurants in Indonesia. Today, it’s located opposite the Tjong A Fie Mansion, so you can easily walk over once you’re done touring the museum.

Image credit: Tip Top

The restaurant serves classic dishes that include ice cream made with traditional recipes using Dutch-era old machines and other menus that have both Eastern and Western flavours. The bakery also serves old-school cakes that are worth trying.

Image credit: Tip Top

Where you can find it: Tip Top Restaurant, Jl. Jend. Ahmad Yani No. 92 A-B, Medan, North Sumatra, Indonesia

Opening hours: Everyday, 8AM – 11PM

9. Kari bihun Medan (Medanese vermicelli curry)

Medan is well-known for its vermicelli in curry broth, cooked with boiled potatoes and usually chicken meat.  

Image credit: @yopilun

Where you can find it: Rumah Makan Tabona, Jl. Mangkubumi No. 17, A U R, Medan, North Sumatra, Indonesia

Opening hours: Everyday, 6:30AM – 5PM

10. Soto Medan (Medanese soto)

Soto is a traditional Indonesian coconut milk-based soup, consisting of a mixture of meat and various vegetables.  The Medanese version includes potato croquette (perkedel) and the meat pieces (chicken, pork prawn or beef) are fried before being served. 

Where you can find it: Soto Kesawan, Jl. Ahmad Yani, Medan, North Sumatra, Indonesia

Opening hours: Monday to Saturday, 8AM – 2PM

Medan, the Food Paradise of Indonesia

Food is the pride and pleasure of Medanese people, and there are endless cuisines to try in the city. Lucky for you, food is generally affordable in Medan if you eat like the average local. 

Cover image adapted from: MakanMana

4 Historical Sites in Medan Worth Stopping By

By Yoke Clara Yansim / June 21, 2021

Historical Sites in Medan, Indonesia

Anyone who has visited Medan before would agree that this Indonesian city is a paradise for delicious food, but most people don’t know that the capital of the North Sumatra province also possesses a treasure trove of history of various cultures.

From Dutch colonial buildings to majestic mosques, Medan is a product of its unique multicultural heritage. Here are four places in Medan that will transport you to the past. 

  1. Maimun Palace (Istana Maimun)
Image credit: Pegipegi

Built in the years between 1887 and 1891 by Deli Sultan Ma’mun Al Rashid Perkasa Alamyah, the Maimun Palace was previously a place to entertain guests of the Deli Sultanate. It is a confluence of Malay heritage with Middle Eastern and European influences, its design dominated by the colour of yellow – a symbol of the sultanate. 

In its glory days, the Maimun Palace was home to four Malay sultans. Today, the Deli Sultanate still exists although it no longer has any political power, and the palace is a place of residence for the descendants of the sultanate as well as a museum. Visitors can view some parts of the palace, including the royal throne and antique furnishings, and even dress up in Malay traditional outfit for a small fee.

  1. Grand Mosque of Medan (Masjid Raya Al-Mashun)
Image credit: Klook

The sultan who built the Maimun Palace also commissioned the Grand Mosque of Medan. Octagonal in shape, it is one of the most majestic and beautiful mosques in Indonesia with architecture characteristic of the Middle East, India and Spain. The construction began in 1906 and took three years to complete, becoming a place where Sultan Ma’mun delivered his preaches and speeches. 

The mosque is now open every day for prayer sessions and social activities, but do dress modestly when you enter the place of worship.

  1. Tjong A Fie Mansion
Image credit: Nonikhairani

The Tjong A Fie Mansion was built at the turn of the 20th century with Chinese and European influences.

The mansion’s namesake, Tjong A Fie, was a deeply admired Chinese-Indonesian businessman who was appointed as Majoor der Chineezen to lead the Chinese community. His legacy continues to this day, as his generosity and spirit of multiculturalism had helped build the foundations of Medan. 

  1. Medan Post Office
Image credit: Fiza Lubis

The Medan Post Office is a Dutch colonial era building located in the heart of the city. Established by the colonial government in 1911, the post office has retained both its Dutch-style architecture and its function to this day.  

Bonus: The popular culinary centre Merdeka Walk is just right opposite the post office. So, not only will you be able to enjoy the history of Medan, you can also relish the food that the city is so famous for. 

Image credit: ThroughTheL3ns/Flickr

Medan: A Melting Pot

The historical sites mentioned are only a few out of many more in this diverse Indonesian city. Medan’s rich culture and history will surely satiate those with a thirst for knowledge. The best thing? Medan is an extremely budget-friendly city that is close to many other attraction sites like Lake Toba and Samosir Island. 

Cover image adapted from: Pegipegi

Sagada’s Hanging Coffins: 5 Things To Know Before Visiting if Cultural Tourism Is Your Thing

The following article originally featured on TheSmartLocal Philippines. Read it in its original form here

By Yoke Clara Yansim / June 18, 2021

Edited by Koh Xin Tian

Sagada’s Hanging Coffins

If you’re ever around Baguio and want to take a day trip from the City of Pines, you’d want to visit the iconic Hanging Coffins of Sagada located in the Philippines’ Mountain Province. There, the Igorot people are believed to have practised the custom of suspending the dead in coffins on the cliffside for more than 2,000 years, according to the BBC, and the tradition is still going strong.

Whether you love educating yourself about unique ancient burial rituals or just want to take a good hike, this place should absolutely be on your bucket list. Here are 5 things to note if you plan on visiting the Hanging Coffins once the borders reopen.

Note: Sagada is currently only open to its residents due to COVID-19. Please consult the Municipality of Sagada office before travelling there for the most updated information.

1. Hire a tour guide

The tourist information centre in Sagada where visitors can register
Image credit: Jonathan Lansangan

You should hire a guide for safety reasons, especially as a first-timer. There have been reports of tourists getting lost or being involved in accidents, according to Agencia EFE.

But besides keeping you safe and helping you find your way to Sagada’s Hanging Coffins, the guides are also especially helpful in explaining the cultural significance of the site, how the traditions are carried out, and who knows, you might go home with some good stories.

The fee for local guides starts from P300 (~USD6.23) for a group of up to 10 visitors and increases progressively depending on the group size. You can register for the tours via the Tourist Information Office (TIO) located on South Road. Be sure to keep the receipt with you so that you can enter the attraction site.

If you don’t feel like having too strenuous a trip, you’d be glad to know that the tour is a relatively short 15-30 minute hike from the tourism office that brings you to the viewpoint and the Hanging Coffins.

Pro tip: Check that your guide is able to communicate well with you before starting the tour so that you’ll make the most out of your trip.

Note: Due to the recent COVID-19 regulations, there can be no sunrise-viewing and spelunking to prevent mass gathering and physical contact.

2. Be respectful as it’s a sacred site

Image credit: @super.mack

In August 2015, a new bride became viral online because she posted a bridal photo of herself posing near the coffins, which sparked a public outcry.  In general, you shouldn’t take photos of the locals or any rituals without asking for permission – unbeknownst to her. So, it’s best to double-check with your guide what’s OK and what’s not.

This should be a given, but just a reminder: keep your volume down, dress politely, don’t litter, and don’t steal from the sacred sites. Basically, be as respectful as you would at any other cemetery.

3. Avoid typhoon season & dress for sweater weather

Tourists bundled up in warm clothing at the Sagada Tourist Information Center
Image credit: Jonathan Lansangan

June is usually the start of the typhoon season in the Philippines, but landslides often occur between the months of July to August, so don’t go to the mountainous area of Sagada around this time. Safety first, always.

The best time to go is anytime from November to February. New Year’s plan for 2022, hopefully?

Due to the high altitude of the site, the temperatures there are typically about 18°C (64°F) all year round, so you may want to pack your warm clothing if you’re not used to this weather.

4. The Igorots’ unique traditions

Image credit: @shotbyalysn

The Igorots (which is Tagalog for “mountaineers”) believe that suspending the coffins will bring the deceased spirits closer to heaven.

However, there are also practical reasons for this custom. For one, the Igorot people don’t want the coffins to be disturbed by animals or humans, according to Ranker. Hanging the coffins above the ground also enables more efficient use of space as they won’t need to use their croplands as a burial site.

When elderly Igorots in the area die, according to Our Awesome Planet (OAP), their bodies are first smoked to prevent decomposition, then placed on a chair for a few days to allow relatives to pay respects. Afterwards, they are usually placed in a small wooden coffin in a fetal position, symbolising a return to the same position in which they came into the world.

5. Bonus: visit popular sites around the Hanging Coffins

Marlboro Hills, Sagada
Image credit: @arrastia_

The Hanging Coffins is not the only attraction site in the area as Sagada has plenty of other activities to do. 

For example, you can go spelunking in Sumaguing Cave or hiking up Marlboro Hills.

You can also stop by Yoghurt House for a foodie adventure, which is famous in Sagada for its – you guessed it – yoghurt. It’s a mere 24-minute walk from the Hanging Coffins, and a perfect way to wind down after the hike.

Yoghurt House, Sagada
Image credit: @robynjanke

Travel tips for visitors to Sagada’s Hanging Coffins

The Hanging Coffins of Sagada are a perfect mix of mystery, tradition and stunning views for those who love cultural tourism. Just a word of caution, this place may not be for you if you’re uncomfortable with seeing death up close.

Regardless, if you’re bored of visiting the same old touristy destinations such as Boracay’s White Beach or Manila’s San Agustin Church, you may want to consider exploring the more underrated but historically and culturally significant destinations such as the Hanging Coffins instead.

How to get there: From Metro Manila, you can take a public bus to Sagada (12 hours), or take a flight to Tuguegarao Airport and then a taxi to Sagada (5.5 hours).

Cover image adapted from: @aerlcrln