Surabaya

is a much-maligned city. Yes, it is hot (it's in the tropics) and substantial parts of it are crowded and dirty. It has been a city for a long, long time, and there are still hints of its colonial past, if you take the time to look. For Helen and I, it is very "liveable".

Where we live, in Citra Raya, in the outer west, the development into a modern city can be seen daily. When we arrived, in July 2002, we had to drive slowly through the village of Lontar, over nine speed humps, to get to the entrance to the estate. Now there is a four-lane, by-pass road that goes past the one of the biggest shopping malls in Indonesia, and gets us to the another huge mall, in the centre of the city, within 45 minutes.

For many expatriates, Surabaya is a "hardship" posting". (As far as I can work out, this means that it isn't exactly the same as their home country, and the locals, for some inexplicable reason, have difficulty in understanding people who do not speak Indonesian.) Many of the same expatriates have large houses, servants and access to a lifestyle they could not possibly afford in their home countries.

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.........Ciputra Family Club................................. Saturday morning

Admittedly, there are, what I term, the "Indonesian" days, when I could cheerfully "go postal", but I have days in Australia, and other places, when things don't go my way. Anyway, for Helen and I, it is far from hardship. We have jobs that are rewarding professionally and financially, and we get to do stuff that you can't do in other places.

For example, we attend great evenings in five-star hotels. We play golf (very ordinarily) on an excellent course, 100m from our home. We can ride our bikes through traditional villages, or go for a weekend in the mountains, where there are places just as beautiful as in Bali. We have access to good shopping 10 minutes away. We can get most things repaired cheaply and easily, (When we lived in Bali, anything sophisticated that broke was sent to Surabaya, Yogyakarta or Jakarta for repair.)

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......Training run............................................Farmer, west Surabaya

The expatriate community is not large, and Australasia, the U.K., Europe, Japan, Korea and the U.S.A. are strongly represented. There have been several "North/South" sports competitions in recent years and each year there is the Dutch carnival and the Christmas Ball. The Surabaya Wine Society holds three or four functions each year, and there are enough occasional other functions to keep people interested.

Sports-wise, there are weekly, social games of touch football, netball (although we struggle for female players) and squash. There is a weekly swimming club at Surabaya International School. Golf is far cheaper than Bali or Jakarta, and there are social competitions. The Surabaya Cricket Club plays each month, and the Surabaya Expatriate Soccer Club (the SexPats) plays most weeks. There are probably other activities that we are yet to discover. For those who venture into the Indonesian community (and, in particular, the large, wealthy, Chinese-Indonesian community) there is badminton, table tennis and cycling, that we know of. There is a sports university beside Citra Raya, which has facilities for hockey and beach volleyball, and an Olympic-size pool, as well as the afore-mentioned sports. The new Ciputra Water Park is walking distance from our home.

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........The Hotel Majapahit........................................................Helen is the one at the back

Dining out is getting better and better, with new restaurants opening weekly. A growing percentage is equal to those found in Bali and Jakarta, and the cheaper, "interesting" ones are blooming. The poor-quality ones disappear very quickly. The city centre hosts a famous food street market, and the main street of Citra Raya is packed with hawker-style food after dark. Alcohol is getting easier to obtain, and wines and spirits are far cheaper, in the supermarket, than in Bali. There are also at least three top-class cinemas, and a number of great nightclubs (if the cigarette smoke doesn't bother you too much [which it does me]). More and more places are becoming non-smoking, although, as with most laws and regulations in Indonesia, enforcement is weak.

Traffic is pretty easy to handle, as long as you understand that nobody obeys any rules and, in a country where time usually seems to have no value, everybody wants to be at the head of the traffic queue. There are none of the gridlocks that happen in Jakarta and Kuta, and the traffic police actually have a good go at keeping things orderly.

Admittedly, it takes about a day to do the "sights" in the city itself. For us, who are interested in how other people live, just walking around the city centre or cycling through a rural village is wonderful. The city centre is gradually being "developed", but the older blocks consist of an outer rim of shops selling a bewildering array of things, with narrow lanes lined with houses behind them. The shops, as elsewhere in Indonesia congregate - thus, there is "gold street", "car parts street", "shoe street", etc.

The three big shopping malls, along with a number of other nice malls and renovated markets provide great shopping. We are yet to have a large, western-style bookshop, but the existing ones are getting better. Tunjungan Centre, in the heart of town, is the place to buy pirated DVD's, CD's and mp3's.

For tourists, there are the symbols of Independence - Jembatan Merah (Red Bridge) and the Hotel Majapahit. The Ampel mosque is worth a look, with its market full of Middle-Eastern type junk, and the harbour is interesting. There is also the 800-year-pld Joko Dolog statue tucked behind buildings opposite the Governor's palace.

There are plenty of day trips and weekend trips - Bromo, Malang, Trowulan, Pacet, Tanggul Angin, Taman Safari and Tretes/Trawas. It is also very handy, by plane, to Bali, Yogyakarta, Kalimantan and Jakarta, and there are also direct flights to Singapore, KL and China.

Surabaya hasn't got the beaches of Bali, and you tend to notice four to six million people going about their daily life. It appears chaotic, but it works. We enjoy living a vibrant city that presents new wonders daily.

 

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