20 November 2012

Surabaya, Jawa Timur

[Muharram started a couple of days ago on 15 November. Muharram is the first month of the Islamic calendar in which fighting is prohibited. So, happy new year to any one who is a Muslim!]

A couple of weeks ago, I traveled to Surabaya in Jawa Timur (East Java) for the Fulbright mid-year conference. The halfway point of the grant is January, technically. However, the conference was held earlier so that the ETAs could collaborate with the ELFs. Surabaya is the second largest city in Indonesia, and I was excited to tour some parts of the city. But we were only there for three days, so I made the most of the short stay. According to Lonely Planet, locals refer to Surabaya as Kota Pahlawan (City of Heroes) because that is where the battle for Indonesia's independence began.

My first stop was the historic Majapahit Hotel (Majapahit was a kingdom in ancient Indonesia). One of the hotel staff members gave me a tour. The hotel's construction began in 1910 and was completed in 1911 as the Oranje Hotel under Lucas Martin Sarkies, an Iranian-born Dutch man. When the Japanese occupied Indonesia during WWII, the hotel's name was changed to Hotel Yamato and became a temporary camp for Dutch women and children. In 1945, Dutch occupation resumed. The tour led me to Room 033 where the Indonesian flag was born. Room 033 used to be a temporary headquarter for the Dutch. At some point during their stay, they raised the Dutch flag on the room's tower. This act upset the youth of Surabaya and someone climbed the flag pole on the tower and ripped  the blue strip off the Dutch flag, transforming it into the Indonesian flag. It felt surreal being in the room as I tried to imagine all of the history that took place there. Room 033 is now a high-end room with most of the furniture from its opening days. After that event, the hotel became known as Hotel Merdeka  (merdeka means freedom in Indonesian) or The Liberty Hotel. Once we left the room, we walked through the halls and checked out the hotel's gardens, ballroom, and cafe, Cafe 1910. After 1945, the hotel went through one more name change to become the Lucas Martin Sarkies Hotel, before it was named the Majapahit Hotel.
I rode in a becak (pedicab) for the first time. 
This is a picture of my driver. 

A view of the street from the becak.

Painting commemorating the tower event of November 1945.

Charlie Chaplin, the famous silent actor, Crown Prince Leopold III
from Belgium, and Princess Astrid from Sweden once graced these halls.

The front of the Executive Suite.

The entrance to Cafe 1910.

Resting outside of Cafe 1910. 

The next day, I went to the House of Sampoerna (sampoerna means perfect in Indonesian), another historical site. It was founded in 1932 by Liem Seeng Tee, a Chinese Indonesian, and was later used as an orphanage managed by the Dutch. Today, the House of Sampoerna is a museum as well as a cigarette factory. I walked around the museum on the ground floor before going upstairs to observe the cigarette production. It was an unbelievable sight. First, I watched about 10 women package cigarette boxes. They looked like robots as they packaged the cigarettes at an incredibly fast pace. The only parts of their bodies that you can see moving are their arms. You are reminded that they are humans when they pause briefly to wipe the sweat off their brows or to drink some water. As I continued walking on the second floor, I received a fishbowl view of the cigarette production process. A staff member told me that there are about 400 workers in one room (there are eight rooms in total) rolling cigarettes with traditional equipment. One person does the rolling while another person, standing close by, trims the ends of the cigarette. [She also reminded me that the first owner was Indonesian, then said that now he is American: tobacco giant, Philip Morris.] As I stood marveling at the scene below me, one of the workers looked up and noticed me. She waved at me and some of her coworkers noticed her waving and then me. Soon, half of the room was waving at me. I laughed and waved back at them. I also remember one woman started rubbing her head, then pointing to me, and then went back to rubbing her head. I guess she was really digging my afro. After Morgan joined me, I left the window. I had to let the women get back to work. [Visitors are not allowed to take pictures of the cigarette production and packaging. So, unfortunately, I don't have any photos. I hope that my words give you a good picture of what I saw. :~)]

Liem Seeng Tee's bicycles. 

Mr. Tee's first stand. 

In front of the House of Sampoerna with Marilyn and Charlie. 

Before grabbing lunch at a warung, we went to some more sights: Jembatan Merah (Indonesian for red bridge), a site where a lot of fighting occurred between the Dutch and Indonesians, and the Heroes Monument and Museum.

Jembatan Merah.

Street art.

An old building in the middle of town.

Surabaya means "shark crocodile." Sura for shark and 
baya for crocodile. The city's seal (in the center of this sewer cover) is a 
picture of a shark and crocodile facing each other in the shape of an "s." 
According to a local myth, the two creatures fought each other to determine 
which of the two was the strongest and most powerful.   

A rally in front of the Governor's Office.

The Heroes Monument. 

Workers started setting up decorations at the monument 
to prepare for the president's visit on 10 Nov (Heroes Day). 

Statute in front of the entrance to the Heroes Museum. 

Morgan and I dined on some mie goreng pakai ayam 
(fried noodles with chicken) at a warung.

These cute school girls from Madura came up to our table
to say hello and work on their English. 

Walking around Surabaya as we made our 
way back to our hotel. 

The first day of the conference was dedicated to discussing successes and challenges in our communities and at our schools, prompt ideas for WORDS (the National Creative Writing English Competition held in March), and safety issues. The second, and last day, was devoted to learning how to work with basic, intermediate, or advance level students, creating activities for them, and learning how to be better assistant-teachers. A lot was packed into two days, but I left the conference feeling much better about how to work with my co-teacher and be a better resource for my students.

I was very grateful for my lovely stay at the Marriott Hotel. 

Inside our mid-year conference: here we discussed activities 
for basic-level students in our classes and English clubs. 

A trip to the Arab Quarter as we search for dinner.

A man behind his date stand. 

Spongebob, one of our options for dinner...

A piece of Chinatown. 

Seafood dinner at Sari Laut Kapasan warung. 

I'm back in Pontianak, and back to the equatorial heat! Until next time :~). 


  1. Choumika, this is just wonderful! Thanks for sharing your photos and experience. You're such an inspiring young woman. :)

    1. Thank you very much for your kind words, Paola! I'll keep them coming :~).