Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Indonesia: Surabaya

Over Chinese New Year, we decided to take a quick trip to Java with a side trip to Singapore, even though it was the rainy season.

Since Blogger is being a jerk, I'll put all the text here and all the pictures below. First up - and I'm splitting trip into several posts by destination within Java so I don't have to constantly copy-and-paste from Flickr - we flew into Surabaya, a sidewalk-free, mostly industrial but also somewhat interesting city on the eastern tip of Java. A friend of ours lives there, so we wandered the city with him until it was time to catch our evening train to Borobudur.

Even our Hungarian tour guide friend, who has lived in Indonesia for years, admits there's not a lot to do in Surabaya. We met up with him both coming and going - it was great having a local-living friend to take the lead in getting around, by the way - and went to the mosque in what Lonely Planet ambitiously calls "The Arab Quarter". Yes, it was worth the trip. Yes, that part of town is run-down and struggles with poverty. There is a wealth of heritage architecture, though, mostly art deco from the colonial period, the mosque is nice, and the market street leading to the mosque very atmospheric. We walked by Chinatown on the way - don't bother.

A few things worth noting: first, there are lots of cats in Surabaya. In fact this seems to be a thing not only in Indonesia but in basically every Muslim country I've visited. I know Muhammad preferred cats to dogs but I can't quite imagine that's the reason why Turkey, Egypt and Indonesia were so cat-fully nice (especially Turkey).

Second, Surabaya is really a city of drivers. People live in family homes in kampungs in the spread-out town, which has no clear town center (although one particular massive shopping mall, Tunjungan Plaza, serves as a central point). Most roads have no sidewalks and, with no clearly delineated 'downtown', it's not clear how one even would walk around the city. Buses are a non-starter, and there is no metro or light rail system of any kind. There are bemos, but you have to know where you're going. What this basically means is if you go to Surabaya, budget to take taxis everywhere. Fortunately, taxis are generally honest, cheap and - thankfully - air-conditioned.

Wouldn't live there though. If you've read this blog even occasionally you know I DO NOT drive in urban areas and believe strongly in urban public transit. I won't live in a city without it.

Third, towards the end of this group of photos, note the mosaic on one colonial building - Dutch woman on one side, Indonesian on the other, separated by some Art Deco deity. This is just one interesting bit of Dutch colonial-era Art Deco architecture, and serves to remind one that you can admire the buildings all you like, but remember the brutality, racism and inequality of the imperial powers that built it all. Worth it? I don't think so. The buildings are nice though.

Fourth, I don't have photos here as they didn't come out well, but the House of Sampoerna (and its attached cafe) as well as the Majapahit hotel bar are both worth a stop. Or you could eat at "Papa Ron's" pizza in Tunjungan Plaza. Your choice.

Finally, do check out the zoo - just to see the Komodo dragons if anything.

My other posts on Indonesia are here (coming soon):

Solo (Surakarta)
Baluran National Park






















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