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 was very "liveable" and is even more so since our time there.
Where we lived, in Citra Raya, in the outer west, the development into a modern city can still 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 leads to another huge mall, in the centre of the city, within 45 minutes, with at least two on the way.
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.
.........Ciputra Family Club................................. Saturday morning
Admittedly, there were, what I term, the "Indonesian" days, when I could cheerfully have gone "postal", but I have days in Australia, and other places, when things don't go my way. Anyway, for Helen and I, it was far from hardship. We had jobs that were rewarding professionally and financially, and we got to do stuff that you can't do in other places.
For example, we attended great evenings in five-star hotels. We played golf (very ordinarily) on an excellent course, 100m from our home. We could 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 had access to good shopping 10 minutes away. We could 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.)
......Training run............................................Farmer, west Surabaya
The expatriate community was not large, but Australasia, the U.K., Europe, Japan, Korea and the U.S.A. were strongly represented. There had been several "North/South" sports competitions in recent years and each year there was the Dutch carnival and the Christmas Ball. The Surabaya Wine Society still holds three or four functions each year, and there are enough occasional other functions to keep people interested.
Sports-wise, there were weekly, social games of touch football, netball (although we struggled for female players) and squash. There was 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 played each month, and the Surabaya Expatriate Soccer Club (the SexPats) still plays most weeks. There are probably other activities that we did not 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 Ciputra Water Park is walking distance from our former home.
........The Hotel Majapahit........................................................Helen is the one at the back
Dining out was getting better and better while we were in Surabaya, and 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. However, this is changing as development without supporting infrastructure continues (in all parts of the country).
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 was wonderful. The city centre is 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. Tunjungan Centre, in the heart of town, was 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.
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 enjoyed living in a vibrant city that presents new wonders daily.