Saturday, May 24, 2014

City of heroes, food, cigarettes, coffee, sharks and crocodiles

Surabaya is a bit different from your average Indonesian city. Despite being the second biggest city in Java, it feels more like a large provincial town. It's traffic is ordered by a network of one way streets, meaning it doesn't take long before you have a striking sense of de-ja-vue as you pass the same malls and government buildings, always going in the same direction.

By a lucky turn of events I ended up being hosted by Juffry, a newcomer to couchsurfing and I was his first guest. My original host decided to move house ( I'm sure my references aren't that bad!!) so I ended up with Juffry. I'm so glad that happened, because Juffry was a fantastic host and a great guy.

I arrived in Surabaya after an 8 hour air conditioned bus ride from Jepara. I decided to go for a little comfort after so many long, squashed together, overcrowded, hot and sweaty economy bus rides on back seats in the last few weeks. Instead I nabbed a seat up the front and forced myself not to be rocked to sleep as we traversed the north coast road, past rice paddies green with new growth or yellow with a crop ready for harvest, past fleets of brightly painted fishing boats, past brick factories and fish farms and through a few quite pleasant looking towns. It's an area I wouldn't mind exploring a little closer, perhaps on a bike. From Surabaya's bus station I grabbed a cab and arrived at Juffry's in less than 30min.

Juffry is from Makassar, in South Sulawesi, but grew up in Surabaya with his grandparents, before moving to Singapore as a teenager. Then he studied animation in Brisbane for 3 years before returning back to Singapore, failing to get a job, and drifting into the hospitality industry. Starting out washing dishes and being a kitchen hand, he worked his way around a few kitchens and learnt a great deal. Turns out his real passion is food. Then in 2009 he returned to Surabaya to help care for his ageing grandfather, and has been there since. His grandfather has since passed on, and Juffry continues to live in the old house. Which is where I got to stay.

Introductions over, we headed out to dinner. Nasi Rawon was Juffry's choice, and we went to this warung known as "calculator" because the waiters do an impressive mental arithmetic tally of your order and turn it into a bit of a performance. Nasi Rawon is beef, mostly offal, in a rice soup. You can chew on some extra liver or tripe with it if you so desire. It's a really yummy dish, we fail to appreciate the deliciousness of well cooked offal in most of the west these days.

The next morning Juffry took me to his shop. He has a small restaurant selling one dish, a traditional beef soup from Makassar called Coto Makassar. Not only did he research the recipe and find some old women to teach him, but he puts a huge effort into creating the perfect stock and spices, with no MSG. He's struggling to get customers, due to being in an out of way alley, because anyone who eats his Coto will want to come back for more. Its traditionally eaten with lontong and a special chilli sauce. He makes the lontong and sauce himself, weaves the little packets himself, the whole experience is imbued with care and attention to detail. So, if anyone reads this and wants to go eat there, the shop is in Manyar kertoarjo 4, near warung Bu Kris. If the shop moves, I'll let you know.
Juffry has now moved to Bali, he now works at Waroeng de Daun, Jl. Pengubengan Kauh No. 559, Kerobokan, Kuta, Bali, Indonesia.

After breakfast I waited for another local Surabayan to go sightseeing with me, but after some initial enthusiasm the chap disappeared off the face of the earth and failed to show, and stopped messaging me. My experience with couchsurfing in Indonesia has been a bit mixed, with a number of people offering to host or show me around, but when I've contacted them immediately prior to arrival, or once I've arrived in town for meetups, many of them fail to answer back or are too busy with their lives to host or meet up afterall. It is a bit bizarre to offer when you know your life is too busy to be able to follow through. Those people I have met, or who have hosted me, OTH, have been fantastic hosts and people I'd like to keep in touch with.

So, with Juffry busy all day in the shop, and my couchsurfing "friend" vanishing, I headed off on a sightseeing tour by myself. I had intended to take an angkot, but somehow I just kept wandering, in fact I walked all day through the streets of Surabaya, negotiating the traffic (just keep walking....) and finding a few little gems. There's still some quite decent old districts of Surabaya, and a fair collection of old Dutch buildings, some tastefully restored and others simply falling apart. There's a China town and an Arab quarter, but we'll touch on them later.

There's a series of canals and rivers that wind their way through Surabaya, many of the canals having quite nice little parks adjoining them. Almost hidden by overgrown weeds beside the river is a concrete crocodile and a concrete shark. Why these bizarre, almost forgotten statues you ask? Well Surabaya is actually the shortening of two old Javan words, for Shark and Crocodile. The mythology of the battle between the shark and the crocodile goes back a long way, some saying it signifies the battle between the old Hindu Majahapit Kingdom and the new Islam, but I suspect it goes back further than that.

This story of battle and conquest is a common one, and Surabaya is one city where heroes are celebrated. It's a city where Independence from Dutch colonialism was fought for, and won, and there's a few monuments erected, a few statues to commemorate, and a little official graffiti making it perfectly clear that a newly liberated Indonesian nation didn't want the Dutch to come back after the Japanese occupation, or for the Allied forces liberators to make themselves at home. For all its problems, and mistakes made along the way, Indonesia's done an amazing job of somehow governing so many different islands, cultures, languages and religions. And these days as a democracy!!

After an exhausting day walking hundreds of kilometres, Juffry took me to his favourite Tahu Tek place. Tahu Tek is a Surabaya specialty, it's actually a variation on gado gado, with tofu and lontong mixed in a spicy peanut sauce and lots of crackers loaded on top. It's the perfect comfort food, but is completely unphotogenic. Sorry...

After dinner we headed to the posh Surabaya Plaza to meet up with a couple of other local couchsurfers. Deavin is a psychotherapist who is also an author and accomplished musician, and he wanted my opinion on a new psychology book he is writing. Why he wanted my opinion is a puzzle, but I freely gave it since he was so obsessed with his theory that it seemed only right to be helpful. It's a self help book he's writing, which is kind of about getting that work life balance sorted, with a guide to how to do it. It made sense what he was saying, it wasn't crap, so hopefully he'll be able to make a million selling books to people who only want to read about how to improve their lives, not actually make changes. So shoot me, I'm a bit of a cynic...

Also with Deavin was Ikeu, who teaches English at an International school. Luckily she doesn't teach geography, because it's not her strong point. Unfortunately she got a little guide to Australia by yours truly, complete with bad drawings of sharks and other creepy crawlies. Oh damn, I forgot to mention the drop bears.....

The next morning I grabbed a cab to the Arab quarter of Surabaya. It's centred around a mosque and grave of one of the founders of Islam in Indonesia, so it's a pretty sacred place. The mosque can only be entered on foot, through narrow alleys lined with shops selling Islamic paraphernaila. Men and women need to be wearing the requisite headgear to visit the mosque, so I had to rustle up a scarf to cover my head before I could enter. Not a problem when every second shop is selling the stuff.

I literally wandered around the Arab quarter for hours, wandering up and down small lanes, chatting to people, doing a little portrait photography and some clandestine shoot from the hip street photography. I'm still learning but happy with a few shots. Had some fun with a few people and kids who were keen for me to photograph them, others don't know...

I stopped for Soto Ayam, or chicken soup. It's served as a rice stew and this one throws in a chicken foot for a little added charm. Mmmm...

After I'd visited the mosque it was time to head further west to The House of Sampoerna. This is probably Surabaya's number one tourist attraction amongst foreigners because 1. it's free; 2. its well presented and has English language guides (also free); 3. has a great cafe that sells western food, eastern food and real yes REAL COFFEE (this isn't free); 4. you can watch the factory workers handrolling the cigarettes from an observation deck above the factory floor, which is freaking amazing to watch and 5. they have a free tourist bus tour you can go on.

OK, so the House of Sampoerna is a cigarette company, founded by a young Chinese orphaned immigrant, but now owned by big bad Phillip Morris. They make the famous kretek cigarettes Dji Sam Djoe, which are pretty well banned in the rest of the world as having a dangerously high tar content. Kretek are clove cigarettes, or rather a combination of tobacco and clove, and are the unmistakeable aroma of Java. Kretek refers to the sound the cloves make as the cigarette burns. The cigarettes are handrolled and packaged, and watching the ladies do this is quite an experience. You're not allowed to film it, so I'll just have to describe it. They place the tobacco/clove mix onto a cotton belt in the rolling machine, roll the tobacco by bringing the roller over it, place the paper on the belt below the rolled tobacco and bring the roller the whole way down, wrapping the tobacco and quickly sealing it closed. Then someone else clips the ends clean and packages them up into boxes etc. The time it takes these ladies to roll cigarettes is phenomenal, they look like the funny motion you see in early moving pictures from the 20s and 30s, they are so fast and there's that repetitive stop start movement as they place each paper that gives it that weirdness to it. It's really fast, but jerky. Oh you'll just have to go see for yourself...

Phillip Morris aren't too keen on keeping this tradition though, and two factories have already retrenched 5000 workers as cigarette rolling gets done by machines instead of people. Sadly, we are talking about an industry that creates illness and cancer, but I'd still like to see people with jobs. Phillip Morris doesn't care about the former or the latter!!

After my sojourn at the house of cancer and damn fine coffee I continued my walking tour of Surabaya. That's because I missed the bus - the free bus tour as mentioned above - because I was savouring a rather delicious iced REAL COFFEE in the cafe AND THE BUS LEFT EARLY!! Without me. Oh well, I needed to return the next day to see the ladies rolling cigarettes (they finish at 1pm so get there before 12 peeps) so I could give you that damn fine description - see above - and maybe I just might need another REAL COFFEE!!!

So, north I trotted, trying to find Kalimas Harbour, where the wooden pinisis of Surabaya load their cargo. This is Surabaya's equivalent of Sunda Kelapa in Jakarta. Unfortunately i took an angkot to the ferry terminal but after a wander around there and a chat to the chaps at the harbourmaster's office, they told me where to go and I walked right on back the way I'd come. The wharf is huge, loading many smaller boats, not just the wooden ones, but large steel boats as well. This is mostly cargo for Kalimantan, I mean you wouldn't want these boats out on the open sea stacked like this!!

The wharf actually extends a few kilometres in length, so it was quite a walk from the northern entrance to the southern one, but soon I was wheeling my way home in a motorised becak. It's quite a fun way to see the city, up front in your little seat at the same level as all the motorbikes. It's a bit too close to all those exhaust fumes though...and beware that you have the exact amount you've bargained your becak driver down to, because he'll insist he doesn't have change...

What with all that walking, I was in need of a massage. Just across the road was a traditional massage place which Juffry recommended, and he booked me in with his friend Kiki. This place is totally genuine, it even has a sign out front saying "no sex", because really, so many massage parlours in Asia are nothing of the sort....

I waited a few minutes for Kiki to be ready and was ushered to my cubicle, told to strip off and given a pair of disposable panties to wear and ordered a cup of ginger tea. Then the firewalking began. It starts the usual way, with an oil massage, and then Kiki starts using her feet. There's a couple of rails for her to keep her balance as she literally walked all over me. Then, when I was pummelled enough, it was into the steam room - individual cubicles with a hole in the door for you to put your head out of whilst the rest of your body sweats out all those impurities. Then into the shower for a wash down, nice clean towel and back to the cubicle to dress and finish the ginger tea. All this took an hour and a half, cost $9 plus tip to the masseur, and left me feeling pretty good, if just a bit sore. Then Kiki joined Juffry and I for dinner at a Sate Kambing (that's goat peeps) place before I sunk into blissful unconsciousness.

The next morning I headed to the nearby Gubeng Railway Station to purchase a train ticket to Banyuwangi. Instead of heading to Bromo to climb Semeru I've decided to spend my final week in a National Park at the eastern tip of Java. Having begun with Ujung Kulon in the west it seems only natural to end with Baluran. Gubeng has two station offices, the one on the main road services trains heading west, the one on the back road services trains heading south and east. Bizarrely, they don't have a bridge between the two so I had to go back down the road I'd just come, cross the track and head back up another road to reach the station office for the train to Banyuwangi. I bought my ticket, had a passable Soto Ayam, and headed back to the house via a convoluted wander through nearby kampungs, chatting with the locals and taking more pictures of the street art.

Back at the house, Juffry was home, taking a break from the shop, so we headed out for the best Soto Ayam in Surabaya. This is called Soto Ayam Ambengan, and having had soto ayam already for breakfast I was in a position to compare. Indeed, the flavour of the soup/stew/stock was far superior to what I'd had for breakfast. Learning about the different foods with Juffry has been fantastic, and one of the great joys of meeting local people rather than hanging out with other westerners. Though it's nice to do that too, and in fact after leaving Juffry at the restaurant I jumped in a cab back to the House of Cancer to catch the ladies at their rolling machines and book back on the free bus tour. I chatted away to a retired couple from London whilst I was waiting for the bus to leave - no savouring that coffee until afterwards!!

The bus tour took us past old Dutch buildings, now converted into office space for local banks, and stopped at Tugu Palahwan. This is a memorial to the Independence of Indonesia, and features the usual symbol of freedom in this country, a massive phallus. Of course it's no where near as huge as Monas, but you get the message nonetheless...

Next on the tour, and our only other stop, was the offices of a sugar company. Originally a private Dutch company, it's a beautiful building with a Moorish exterior, Delft tiling, and some wonderful carved marble scenes depicting colonialisation, exploitation of natives for foreign gain and imposition of a foreign culture. Of course when these scenes were commissioned they would have been proud exclamations of the might of the Dutch empire, but now, they seem somewhat ironic. Especially when paired with the sugar company's modern mascot!!

Back at the house of cancer I enjoyed another REAL COFFEE at the cafe with my London friends before going on a Batik hunt. I'd seen a couple of tulis batik in the gift shop that I liked and the friendly staff had given me the address of a larger gallery where I might be able to find more examples at a somewhat more agreeable price. So into a taxi I hopped and after a little wandering, found the gallery, but unfortunately not the batik I was looking for. Another gallery, not far from Juffry's place, also failed to deliver, so Juffry very kindly drove me back to the house of cancer and I bought the two original pieces. I'd been on the lookout for this sort of piece for my friend Erin, who runs a small artisan's shop in Geraldton, and was glad to be able to find something for her. We are so lucky to have mobile cameras and Facebook, so easy to snap off a couple of shots and send a message to a friend to ask if this is what she'd like.

Next morning, after somehow packing all the batik pieces into my backpack, Juffry drove me to the train station and I took a 6 hour train ride to Banyuwangi.

For more Surabaya photos, you'll find them here

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