Surabaya through the eye of a supermall flyscreen.

“A rice cooker will be thought to be an egret”
Sri Mapanji Jayabaya (or possible bad translation thereof)

The title is mostly full of shit but I thought it sounded kinda sticky and hence might catch a few of you opposable thumb primates out there. If you do, however have something to say from the perspective of the 7th story of Supermall, a speck of dust amongst Sutos floorboards or the exact amount of copper sold from HTC on any given day, feel free to divulge.


After doing not too much for a bit too long, as well as receiving little or no decent work offers back in Australia, I came upon the end of the year and wondered; well what what the hell is supposed to happen next. I’d applied for work as an unexperienced ESL teacher in Australia and abroad, threw in a few applications to work with Refugees in various locations within Australia and even one as case manager at one of our ever so efficient, fair and fantastic offshore processing centres, but no real bites on the line. Nothing was happening really, except for a bunch of travel photos from the past 3 years ending up on brother’s cafe walls. I’d also joined a dating site for the first time, for somewhat unknown reasons, and went on a grand number of two dates in three or four months. Woohoo, what an effervescent, dynamic life. To be honest though, I didn’t mind it, after having been on the road and traveling to random places across the globe for the past three years.

Just before Christmas I suddenly received 3 different offers and went from no mans land to having to make fairly large decisions in a heartbeat (or a few days anyway). Phnom Penh, Surabaya or Sydney? One paid a better rate, another had the best rate but the most expensive place to live, two had languages that I already spoke to some degree, one had a lot of traffic and yet easy ways out of the city by land or air, one had a sense of charm if not mystique purely by the fact that I knew nothing much about it, one paid my airfare, one was right on the beach.

So I drunk some wine, mulled it over, changed my mind a few times, drunk more wine and was then visited by my old mate Fred who deemed to once again whisper sweet somethings in my ear. I couldn’t really understand what he said since he speaks quite a bizarre dialect, though in my infinite wine induced wisdom I deciphered that he was telling me to leave the country.  I assumed if he wanted me to stay and work in Manly he would have spoken English. Then again, you never can tell with Tawny Frogmouth talk. Birds are kind of weird like that. I went to bed feeling relieved, the ping pong brain had disappeared. The next day I woke up and took the job in Surabaya, flying out in about a week. Better brush up on some language, I thought. Yeah good idea, that deserves a glass of wine. Which led of course to me forgetting about brushing up on the lingo.

I really didn’t know what or how to think about Surabaya before I’d landed. Here’s a little of I was aware of ~

  • It is Indonesia’s second largest city and an ever expanding commercial hub.
  • It is very close to and cheap to fly to nearby destinations such as Bali, Lombok, Flores, Sulawesi and much of the Indonesian archipelago.
  • It had a cool old Arab quarter.
  • The name comes from a merging of the Javanese words Suro & Boyo, referring to a shark and crocodile respectively. This linguistic collision references a local myth where both animals fought in order to gain the title of the strongest and most powerful animal.
  • It has an abundance of mad traffic and possibly not so many green zones.
  • Indonesian people lived there.
  • It is in East Java and not so far away from the famous Gunung Bromo, as well as some others, famous for a a variety of reasons I couldn’t remember, just like their names.
  • It was close to the sea.

Here’s some further things I have learnt since arriving:

  • Surabaya has an abundance of malls (though not as many as Jakarta) and a definite middle & upper class. There are lots of Chinese Indonesians.
  • It has more smiling faces per capita than Australia (in my opinion).
  • You can buy NZ Manuka honey here for less than $50 for a small jar, a true blue bargain.
  • A red papaya double in weight to the manuka honey costs about $1.
  • Likewise you can buy a nice meal from a warung for less than a dollar or go splurge at a fancy restaurant for a bit less than the Manuka. Everything in between can also be found.
  • It has the longest bridge in Indonesia, that of Jembatan Suramandu (Surabaya-Madura).
  • It has many roads that get congested throughout the day and much of the night as well as many smaller roads that are also prone to a certain hustle ‘n bustle but are far more fun to ride a motorbike through and walk amongst. Give me the wee slum alleyways any day. At least half of these smaller roads will result in any newcomer most definitely getting lost at some if not most points. Such is half the fun of exploring a place.
  • The Suro-Buyo myth actually comes from the Jayabhaya prophecies, Jayabhaya being a revered King of the Hindu Javanese Kingdom of Kediri which existed in Eastern Java from the 11th to 13th century. Jayabhaya’s reign was considered in many ways to be the golden age of Old Javanese literature. Jayabhaya (or Ratu Joyoboyo in Javanese) was particularly well known for his prophecies and being an oracle of sorts. As such, and since it piqued my interest, I did some reading and wrote a separate post about the prophecies and the man himself, which you can find here. Hopefully it will provide more entertainment than googling the exact number of  3 story malls in Surabaya.
  • It really isn’t difficult to find bacon or a variety of other pig products here, even though I’d been warned by some ignorant swines that it would be. No this is not the Middle East, nor is it an inherently Islamic nation living under Islamic law; it does however have a majority Muslim population (which also happens to be the largest Muslim population of any nation throughout the globe).
  • Durian tends to be imported from Central Java, the last one I bought was from Semarang.
  • Surabaya’s metal and punk scene is located somewhere behind an invisible curtain I have yet to accidentally stumble upon.
  • There are definite green zones with less traffic which induce the feeling of actually being out of town. Just look for the world of golf courses with bukit this or bukit that and you’ll be there.

It’s taking me a while to get to know the city and people in it; then again perhaps that’s all in my mind, I’ve only been here two months so far, in many ways I’ve only just landed. I look forward to getting out of town as much as possible on weekends, assuming I can behave myself on Friday nights, since I have a motorbike and hence freedom to roam. So far there’s been just one decent sojourn, a long weekend spent cruising around Madura, more of that here. Or soon, I promise,  if that link is alluding you or leading elsewhere. The next plan is to go spend a night down around Gunung Penanggungan, explore some of the old Hinddu-Buddhist temples and hopefully swim in the rejuvenating waters of what is colloquially known as the ‘Breasts Temple’. Down this way there are a number of interesting places to explore including Kakek Bodo Recreational Forest which hosts the grave of the hero Kakek Bodo himself, Coban Baung waterfall, an environmental educational centre and of course the simple bliss of taking the slow road into the rustic countryside.

School life is good. It’s a professional outfit and I’m learning a lot from my colleagues and of course the kids. Quite a steep learning curve throughout the first term, hopefully my bag of tricks will grow throughout the year.  Likewise with any luck the number of stories you’ll see here about random little alleyways, durian sellers, strange 2am punks and the grace of Javanese women ;).

Yes, I still feel like someone who lives in between worlds. Fringe dweller. There is always, of course, more to say about this and everything else, but enough for now /

Yeah I’ll post some photos sometime also.

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About praccus

Sordid wanderer now residing in Surabaya Indonesia.

2 responses to “Surabaya through the eye of a supermall flyscreen.”

  1. Brett Rossi says :

    would you care if I recommend this on my twitter?

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