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Our sister city Surabaya

Kate Reitzenstein - Sunday, October 13, 2013

Our journey to Indonesia’s second largest city and sister city of Perth was by train, which took approximately 5.5 hours.  It ended up being a confortable and relaxing way to travel, even for two participants who were suffering stomach bugs. All we had to do was walk across the road from the Garuda Hotel to the Yogyakarta train station and board our train carriage.

Participants’ reactions to the city of Surabaya were initially very positive as they felt it was cleaner and more organized that the capital of Jakarta.  They liked the green belts of recently established parks along the edge of the Kali Mas river, tree-lined main streets and the wide sidewalks where people could walk. There was a lot of traffic, with over 1 million people commuting into Surabaya every day from the outlying regions, yet it always seemed to flow.  As one participant commented “I really appreciate the friendliness of Indonesian people. I notice also that there is far less aggression and anger (in fact I did not witness anyone get angry) despite the hectic pace of life. This is particularly evident in the way drivers of all sorts of vehicles cope with the traffic on the busy roads.”

Our group stayed at the beautiful and historical Majapahit Hotel, formerly named the Oranje Hotel. Through our stay we learnt that the site was central to the lead up of the Battle of Surabaya. After the World War II surrender of the Japanese and subsequent Proclamation of Independence on 17th August 1945, Allied forces returned and set up headquarters in room 33 of the hotel and raise the Dutch tricolor flag at the top of the building. Young independence fighters climbed onto the roof and tore off the blue part of the Dutch flag turning it into the new Indonesian flag and this incident marked the start of the Battle of Surabaya. In modern times, one of the benefits of staying at the Majapahit Hotel is that is opposite the Tunjungan Plaza complex, which consists of four large shopping malls that are all connected.  Some participants got lost on their first visit to the plaza, not getting home but they actually got lost inside the complex!

 

On our full day in Surabaya we started by visiting the famous Tugu Pahlawan, a memorial to heroes who fought for Indonesian Independence and we gained a deeper understanding of the events after the proclamation of Independence and the subsequent battle against the Allied Forces who returned to take back control of Indonesia. The memorial houses a museum and an impressive statue of the first President and ‘father’ of Indonesia Bung Karno and the vice President amidst a crumbling ruin of pillars that represents the imperial rule.

We then went to the House of Sampoerna, a museum dedicated to the Liem Seeng Tee, founder of the Sampoerna cigarette factory that produces hand-made kretek cigarettes. ‘Kretek’ is onomatopoeia for the crackle sound made by the cloves when lit. Our excellent tour guide showed us around the museum, explaining how the family business started out as a small warung, putting their savings into the inside of the bamboo frame of the warung (just like a piggy bank) which was used as capital to expand the business to produce clove cigarettes. One part of the House of Sampoerna is still used as a sample factory where hundreds of women make the handmade Tji Sam Soe brand of clove cigarettes, pumping out on average 350 cigarettes per hour. The visit was not a way to glorify this industry, nor encourage the consumption of tobacco products.  It did, however, deepen understanding of the large role that the tobacco industry had, and still has on the economy and society of East Java. 

We then visited Klenteng Hok An Kiong, a local Chinese temple that is used by worshippers of Taoism, Confucius and Buddhism. Guardian of the temple, Pak Ong showed us around the temple and explained the many shrines and to whom they were dedicated. Once again we saw influences of other religions we had seen previously.  For example, there were statues of worship to the Goddess Durga, standing on the water buffalo (something we had seen at the shrine to Shiva at the Hindu temple of Prambanan) and statues of Gautama Buddha. One tour participant, Pat, took part in a ritual of prayer and Pak Ong showed her how to find her answer to her question by throwing jioubei blocks and then shaking a stack of kau cim sticks in a cup until one fell out.  Pat then found the answer to her question by interpreting the reading of a corresponding fortune card.

The visit to the Klenteng gave the group one more exploration into the religions of the archipelago and once again showed the syncretism of beliefs. One participant, Alison noted “I was surprised and greatly encouraged by the seeming tolerance of other religious faiths; although I saw very few Christian churches.  The assimilation of a number faiths through Java was fascinating.  Almost every person we met spoke about the importance of tolerance, respect and cooperation.”

We then dropped in at the Jatim Fair at Grand City Convention Centre.  On display were hundreds of stalls exhibiting the handicrafts and specialties of all the regions in East Java, showing Surabaya’s main role as an economic and trade centre. There were also cultural performances, including traditional dancing and music from all over the province.

In the evening we shared a lovely traditional dinner with the Vice Governor of East Java and other government dignitaries at the Dream of Kahyangan restaurant in Surabaya’s affluent suburb of Ciputra. We told them of our stories of our trip so far and learnt of the many shared programs between West Australia and East Java. At the dinner we thanked our Bapak Dja'far Shodiq from the East Java government and Pak Yahya from the Department of Tourism for showing us around their city on today's tour.

More than week has passed traveling throughout Java and we have seen such a diversity of social classes, ethnicities, religions, cultures and languages. We have engaged with so many people from different walks of life.  This has prompted some of us to reflect on our position as travellers in this country.  As one participant commented: “Previously in Bali I got the feeling that the locals were just being nice to foreigners to get something in return, that is, your money. I found on this trip that the majority of the population were just friendly and happy and wanting to engage with you just to learn about you without money coming into it at all.”

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