Shortly after arriving back in Indonesia, I had the opportunity to travel to several cities across the archipelago, as part of inspecting and preparing sites that had not had an ETA before this year. This “Snapshot” series is composed of short pieces about my all-too-brief visits to these beautiful and fascinating places, which are now the temporary homes of ETAs from the 2016-17 cohort.
After visiting Kendari, I flew straight from Sulawesi, the island of my second home in Indonesia, to the capital of East Java, the province in which I first found myself as an ETA in Indonesia. While I lived in Malang I found myself somewhat frequently in Surabaya, as it has one of the largest airports in Indonesia, and when I traveled it was often easier and cheaper to take the bus to Surabaya and fly from there, rather than flying directly out of Malang’s airport. Touching down in Surabaya produced similar feelings to that of touching down in Makassar: it was familiar, and a bit like coming home.
But this time I didn’t board the bus to Malang. This time I stayed in Surabaya.
This year there is one ETA in Surabaya proper, and one in Sidoarjo, which is technically the next town over. Sidoarjo is certainly different from Surabaya: there are not as many massive skyscrapers, the streets are smaller: essentially, it feels a bit more “classically Indonesian,” as problematic a term as that is. However, there is no distinct separation between Surabaya and Sidoarjo (I have no idea exactly where one ends and the other begins).
Surabaya is the second largest city in Indonesia, which made it more than a little overwhelming at first, especially for a small-town girl like me. But there are certainly advantages to such a large city, including a diverse group of cultures that each bring something different to the city (while stuck in traffic, we passed China Town, Arab Town, India Town… and I am sure there are more). Surabaya really is a multicultural metropolis, which makes it really special as an ETA site. And while the main streets are filled with shiny malls and skyscrapers, reflecting the hot Surabaya sun down upon the small humans that challenge these massive buildings with their larger-than-life laughter and kindness, off of the main streets are neighborhoods that speak in the same language of giggles and goodness, but in more muted tones of side markets and peeling green paint.
Surabaya (and Sidoarjo, in turn), are fascinating sites, which I could not come close to understanding in my short time there. I cannot wait to hear stories from the ETAs there, come MidYear, to learn what it is like to live in the heart of East Java.