Saturday, February 4, 2012

Surabaya Second To None

By Duncan Graham ,executive summary by Darmansjah

At a meeting in a senior governmnet offical’s suite in Jakarta I waited for the host to invite the visitors to drink the coffee and sample the snacks.

I thought my behavior appropriate and polite the official thought it amusing and a dead giveaway. ‘You’ve been living too long in Surabaya,’ he said while his other guests from the Big Durian Guffawed and tucked in. ‘We’re not like that here now.’

It had taken just an hour to fly from the nation’s second largest city but it seemed I was just a hick from the sticks with my adherence to Javanese protocols.

Surabaya is different. Slower, but not sluggish. Friendly, though not fawning, it makes no aplogies, no concessions. Fads and fleeting fashions are ofr cities still searching for identity.

Surabaya has substance. What you see is what you get. It’s not nouveau riche. Traders have been here since at least 1225. it used to beknown as Soerabaja and you can still encounter this selling along with the symbol of a shark (suro) and crocodile (boyo) in mythological combat.

The East Java capital has all the benefits of a modern metropolis with international class hotels, plus stunning attractions including natural, historical and cultural sites of global importance. Int the mix goes world-class eateries, great golf courses, high speed communications with the rest of the universe and all the other necessary features of modern living.

Direct flights to Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Indonesia capitals from the new Juanda International airport mean that Surabaya is far from isolated, despite the mockery of my Jakarta host.

But it is also absolutely apart from Jakarta. We recognise and respect the old traditions of hospitality and are in no hurry to embrace the coarse customs of the west.

Do business here, but take it amite slower. Take time to get to know your future partners. Look for the subtleties buttressing the substance, not the rapid return after one limp hanshake with someone taking a cellphone call. Time may be money, but it’s wated if not handled with care.

Sure, there are traffic jams-but only during rush hours. Pick the right time and ti’s still possible to get around with ease. The central Business District is relatively compact and the toll roads are being upgraded to allow even easier access.

The difference is attitude. Surabaya has preserved its javanese character while welcoming people from almost everywhere. Madurese, with their hard-nosed business sense, are one of the most visible ethnic groups, bringing theri special cuisine that has come to dominate.

Foods like Soto Madurese (beef soup) and Nsi Jhajhan, a mix of salted seafood, eggs and beef can be found in most restaurants, while those with western tastes will discover the best imported beef alongside local meats. Try restaurant that offer hot-stone steaks where you control the cooking.

If you want to deal with the Chines then hotels like the Shagri-La and Sheraton are best because their decor meets Asian expectations. Americans tend to favor J W Marriott.

The las two are well placed for access to Tunjungan Plaza, surabya’s premier shopping mall, best known to the locals as TP. It’s big enough to get lost, but here are enough cafes and restaurants to ensure you’ll be well fed before you find an exit.

Shopers seeking original well-mead handicrats at prices that won’t melt the credit card should make the short trip to Sidoarjo, just beyond the airport. Here you’ll find scores of ‘home industries’ making fine leatherwear such as shoes, handbags and belts. Unlike the malls you can bargain.

Westerners new to Indonesia should select the century old Majapahit to enjoy and impress. Despite being in the heart of the city, just s hort stroll from Garhadi, the Governor’s 18th century palace, you could be in an era before automobiles.

Europeans, who appreciate hte ambience of the past, love this elegant hotel with its soothing authentic high-Dutch pre-revolution decor and are astoneished  such a gem continues to sparkle.

However packed your schedule, a visit to the house of Sampoerna’s museum and workshop must be include. The cafe is pure style and there’s an art gallery in the room behind. No matter that you don’t smoke and consider nocotine an evil, the women hard-rolling cigarettes at breakneck speed have to seen.

So do the adherents of ancient  faiths who gather on Thursday nights at Joko Dolog. A late 13th century Buddhist statue in a small park opposite Grahadi. Surabya is also home to Indonesia’s oldest mosque, built in 141. The Ampel Mosque is surrounded by the Arab Quarter, a marvellous place to wander and shop.

If you plan to negotiate with government officials and need guidance, the first stop has to be the international Section at the sprawling art deco Governor’s office. It stand opposite the monument at the end of Jalan Pahlawan (street of heroes) with its quaint and ancient buildings, many still used for trade.

The public servants seem to be housed in some of the finest buildings preserved from colonial times. These were also the olcations for some of the bitterest fighting in 1945 when British troops with Gurkha infantry fought against brave young men determined to create a new nation and reputation for their hometown-the city of heroes.

Those who know their history might fear rampant nationalism, but he past has blended well into the rancour-fee present. Surabaya is to busy with the future. The Majapahit Hotel lobby has a splendid painting of the Dutch flag being torn down from the then Oranje Hotel’s tower, but business folk from the Netherlands and elsewhere unconcernedly sign deals on the tables below.

The Indonesian-Australian Business Council has long been the most active international forum for commerce in Surabaya, and in the spirit of pluralism happily embraces other nationals.

Surabaya isn’t just open for busniess – it’s also the portal to active and passive pastimes. There are four golf course close to the cigty and two outside. Be prepared for international competition; the fairways attract keen players from KL and Singapore taking advantage of the easy access.

The spectacular Mount Bromo east of the city has to be seen. It’s even more enjoyable since Sigit Pramono, president director of Bank Negara and a keen outdoors photographer took a personal interest in the facilities and invested in upgrades.

That’s not the only getaway. Tretes  and Trawas are the traditional hill town resorts with fine hotels high above the floodplain, but there area many nearby villages where visitors aren’t treated as walking ATMs, and rip-ffs are rare.

Trowulan is the ultimate cultural center. Once the capital for the Majapahit Empire it’s  surrounded by 100 square kilometers of archaelogical sites, many easy to reach.

A new bridge to Madura means the island is easy to explore, and well worth the time for its has an entirely different culture.

So what are you waiting for? Just don’t forget to wait to be invited to sip when sharing tea with the locals.

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