印尼泗水兩個完美的晚上 | Two perfect nights in Surabaya, Indonesia
約翰百德 (John BATTEN)
at 3:12pm on 24th October 2018
2015年11月10日，印尼泗水的英雄日巡遊。Hari Pahlawan (Heroes’ Day) parade, Surabaya, Indonesia, 10 Nov 2015.
(Please scroll down for English version)
泗水殖民地藝術裝飾建築與荷蘭現代主義的遺跡散落市內。Sarkie兄弟是亞洲顯赫有 名的酒店經營者，它們在Jalan Tunjungan興建了現已更名為滿者伯夷的酒店，足證該市在貿易上的重要地位。滿者伯夷酒店是品牌遍佈亞洲的豪華酒店之一，姊妹酒店還包括譽滿檳城的Eastern & Oriental、新加坡的萊佛士酒店，還有仰光的The Strand。經復修後，滿者伯夷酒店仍然散發舊時代的輝煌。
Two perfect nights in Surabaya, Indonesia
by John BATTEN
The recent earthquakes, the tsunami, the drop of in the rupiah to its lowest level in twenty years, and then seeing a young head-covered woman sitting in the front top-deck of the bus quietly gazing out the window as it travelled through Aberdeen Tunnel, reminded me of a trip a few years ago to a proud city.
Long ago, I had read that Surabaya, East Java’s provincial capital, was crowded, polluted and not much of a place to linger. However, after my arrival none of that was tested as I immediately went from Surabaya’s airport to the bus station.
I had wanted to take a train from Surabaya to Yogyakarta, but the trains and my flight’s arrival from Hong Kong did not coincide. I opted for an overnight bus and an earlier arrival for the Yogyakarta Biennial, the focus of my week in Indonesia. Once on the road, I sagely saw the many roadside police checkpoints, skull-and-cross-bone warning signs and abandoned car wrecks on the roadside. Then, as the ultimate caution, were pieces of crashed car debris mounted on a tall plinth. This was no avant-garde sculpture, but a dire warning of the single carriageway running between the two cities. The bus driver obviously knew the road, but even his skilled overtaking was closer to death than death-defying…
The relaxing return train trip went through a post-rice harvest landscape of burning smoke. The city’s industry and commercial plots fringed the outer suburbs and then we arrived at Surabaya’s Stasiun Gubeng. I checked into a hotel and immediately headed to the city’s famed Arab district centred around the mosque and tomb of Sunan Ampel, one of the nine saints who propagated Islam on Java in the 15th century. The covered bazaar near the mosque sold handmade cloth, perfumes, dates (attended by hovering bees), and religious paraphernalia. Restaurants and cafés served visitors housed in nearby pilgrim hostels. Decades ago they would have predominantly accommodated hajjis waiting for boats bound for Mecca or transported Javanese labour to further-afield Dutch colonies; which explains the presence, even now, of centuries-old pockets of Javanese living in South Africa’s Cape Town.
I wandered the pleasantly car-free back streets, disturbed only by an occasional motor-bike, playing children and bell-in-hand hawkers selling door-to-door. The beautiful pre-war row houses were a colonial Dutch/Javanese hybrid with touches of Indo brightness: green, blue, pinks. Hand-fretted wooden pediments were delicate decoration and allowed air to circulate in the steep tile-roofed houses. Birds singing from outdoor hanging birdcages were the musical accompaniment.
Then I turned a corner, near one of the old canals that served the port and godowns from an earlier comprador era and met a Hari Pahlawan (Heroes’ Day) parade. The first major revolutionary battle against the return of the Dutch colonialists in Indonesia after World War II was in Surabaya on 10 November 1945. The parade was a mix of happy fashion and proud celebration with small girls in formation zipping along on rollerblades, khaki-clad veterans sitting in machine-gun mounted jeeps, a lusty display of fire-fighting gymnastics, brass bands, traditional drumming on bamboo instruments, and a brigade of Easy-Rider/Mad Max bicycles with elongated front-forked wheels. Like everyone else, I snacked from the street food stalls. Then walked in the canal-side parks.
Remnants of Surabaya’s colonial art-deco architecture and Dutch modernism is scattered around the city. Confirming the city’s trading importance, Asia’s pre-eminent hoteliers, the Sarkie Brothers, built the (later re-named) Majapahit Hotel on Jalan Tunjungan, to join a luxury hotel portfolio that included the famed Eastern & Oriental in Penang, Raffles in Singapore and The Strand in Rangoon. It still stands in renovated glory.
Surabaya does have new shopping malls, crowded motorways and alienating overpasses, but I had missed them all. Sometimes, a two-night stay in a city gives the best experience.
Surabaya was far from Sulawesi’s earthquake, but this year’s Heroes’ Day parade in Surabaya will, no doubt, express a spirit of strong solidarity and future renewal. Just as the country did to vanquish the return of the Dutch, who had mistakenly thought that after the end of the Second World War life would again return to its colonial past.
Published in Ming Pao Weekly, 11 October 2018, Chinese translated by Aulina Chan.