Tuesday May 19, 2009

Cigarette tycoon's Singapore registered Rolls in Surabaya

I first visited Surabaya in 1989, then just a meek but interested passenger on one of ‘Victor Bicycle’s trips. That really was his Hash nickname. He was game enough to handle 10 people of various backgrounds and personalities, as long as he had the final say and was left alone to take his pictures. That in itself took hours but I was fine with that, having similar interests. After a week of camping and roughing it out on the sand sea and various villages, some were glad to part ways at the airport, and head back to the comfort of their homes in Malaysia, Singapore and Australia. I was planning to fly to Bali, just an hour away. The certain someone whom I had taken a fancy to, had never been to Bali too, so that was quite convenient. Better still, she worked for the Hyatt chain, and there was one in Surabaya. While getting 50% off the room rates was nice, I was more worried about the ‘happy camper syndrome’ that had set in. Would we have a follower or two ? Let’s all bunk in together! Luckily everyone’s flights left earlier and we set off to tackle the city’s rush hour traffic.

Chinatown, Surabaya

Our present hotel, the Ibis is in the north of town, close to the harbour, Chinatown and the Arab Quarter. Far removed from the Hyatt, but that’s alright. That new CBD is just a cleaner mass of high rises, condos and malls. Canon and I were on a mission to capture dirt and grime, the new and the crumbling, wet markets, choked rivers, contrasts of old and new, rich and poor and had just a morning to do so.

And yes, the city is named after a famed battle between a shark (sura) and a croc (baya or buaya)

I’ll let Wikipedia shed more light, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Surabaya

I must have walked almost 10 kms this morning. On hindsight, getting around on crowded one way streets and diverting into the many side lanes would have been much better on a bicycle. We did not make it to the harbour to see the giant schooners and sailing ships that ply the Indonesian archipelago as another diversion cropped up. The Sampoerna Museum. It was an oasis of air conditioning and had the heady scent of cloves, once we stepped inside to dry our sweat soaked backs. As far as museums go, this privately run one beats some of those operated by some governments. The central theme here being a rags to riches story, with a couple of bicycles involved. From a viewing platform above the factory floor, the view of clove cigarettes being hand rolled by the thousands was quite a sight. I think there’s another one in the countryside, a veritable small town in itself where the real production takes place, with machines rolling billions of cigarettes a year.

Sempoerna clove cigarettes hand rolled by the millions

Our ride to the airport

All too soon, our trip was into it’s final hours. Our ride to the airport came 30 minutes too early, a rare thing in Indonesia. With Paul nowhere to be found, at the appointed time I loaded my box in the Kijang and set out to look where my instincts told me, the hotel massage parlour. Thankfully he was in the shower washing up and came out soon enough. As the driver had to wait a total of 60 minutes, he mumbled something about more money for waiting. I hope it wouldn’t get too nasty. Then the afternoon rain storm hit, delaying out progress, but we had ample time.  At the airport I paid him the agreed Rp 150,000 which he reluctantly accepted. Any more would have to come from Paul who likes to cut it too close when important schedules like flights home are on the cards.

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