Day One

by Will Sanders on April 21st, 2009

chapter 1
I landed here a couple of days ago. The airport customs was a large unlit room with no AC, flies and such. Big contrast to the airports of Singapore, Chicago, and Hartsfield. I showed the guy my passport, the new fancy smancy visa I have, he owwed and ahhhed before stamping. Outside there was a rabble of people trying to get me into a taxi, they seemed thunderstruck that I didn’t need one. The lady in the money changing window wouldn’t take one of my US $50s. IMPORTANT TRAVEL WARNING: In south east Asia money expires. If a bill isn’t brand new looking, say a crease, small tear or dogeared corner it becomes worthless. I don’t know why that is, I should have remembered from last time I was in these parts but I didn’t.
My driver was hanging out with a sign that said ‘Mr William Sanders’, that’s me I told him and we were off.
The roads here are suicide, large clumps of people merging into other large clumps at full speed, haphazardly, and in a complete absence of traffic lights. In lew of brakes people seem to opt for horn blasting just to let everyone know where there are, which seems like a good idea until you realize that every single one of the hundreds of cars and motor scooters speeding bumper to bumper all want everyone to know where they are and it creates a cacophony of screaming music, hot Jesus did you see that? They just missed each other by inches that time! It would’ve been bad, too. Should’ve been listening for that guys horn, another close one! Round and round they go, slam dancing in a vehicular circle pit, the bikes doing the pogo off the mini vans and the taxi’s all start to do-si-doe. I told my driver I thought he must be a very brave man, he laughed and laughed.
I told my driver I wanted to learn Indonesian, he seemed very impressed just from the aspiration alone. ‘This is good way to talk to the people!’ he told me. I told him that I wanted to make many friends here. ‘Julong is the word for street’, he told me. I told him there were only two words in Indonesian I knew so far. He asked to know what they were. I said ‘terima kasih’, pronounced like the name Terry Mackoshi, it means thank you. He nodded and wanted to know what other word in Indonesian I knew. “Julong” I said, Which brought whoops of laughter and celebrational horn blasting.
The roofs are all made of orange tile which brings a uniformity to the shacks, and once taken above street level on a bridge looking out over the tops of the houses the orange is almost Imperial. Amid the flying motorcycles and vans and cars, (all speeding, all screaming) are modern rickshaws with seats in front pushed by bicycles in back. And walls are fully splashed in places with explosions of graffiti, not just tags like in the States, but really thought out art, like pictures of subway trains in New York back in the Wild Styles era. It isn’t everywhere, here and there, but it makes all the difference.
We went along the main drag of the city, soon we were in my new neighborhood. Over there across the street is the wicker chair and table market place, under tents people bending and weaving and cutting wood into functional perfection, and shopfronts and food vendors line the street, as do gullies of sewage covered with intermittent concrete slabs. The river which snakes through the city is black and bubbles from god knows what kind of mixture of trash chemicals and shit, and the smell. Oh, the smell. And the people carrying worlds on their backs, and the smiles, the children here are so young and the old here are so old. When I was back in Atlanta, I closed my eyes and pictured just such a place. I was home. You hear that Asia? Your foreign devil prodigal son has come home. Be good to me, I really love you so.

Chapter 2
I live in a nice house, two house mates, one from England by way of Italy and one from the States. More on them when I know them a little better, or not we’ll just have to see.
I have a maid, yeah, a maid! I don’t know what to do with a maid, I worry that she will make me lazy beyond belief. She is an old lady and a good soul. She lives in the house with us and speaks no English, but whenever she sees me she smiles and tells me things. She tells me important secrets, I like to think, maybe things she would never tell anyone who could understand. Really I think it is more on the order of ‘remember to lock the door when you come in’ or ‘please don’t wear your shoes in the house’, but for I know it could be anything. She has a kind slow way of speaking and when she tells me things I listen intently. I have started responding by telling her things in English, nothing serious, I tell her things about my day or what I am planning on doing later. I tell her these things she doesn’t understand but she smiles and nods just the same. I think she likes talking to me I don’t know. She could be saying ‘kill whitey’, but I doubt it.
Here is the big problem, no AC. It is hot in my room, I would say close to unbearable, but I am not the only one going without. I am one of many teachers and it looks like one of very few Americans, so if I were the only one making noise about the lack of AC I could be towing the line of looking like a loud mouth yank, I don’t want to be the loud mouth yank, at least not yet. And cold showers, but with this heat I can’t imagine wanting a hot shower ever.
Here is another problem, we are next door to a mosque. No, I am not hateful towards anyone, but the speaker is near my window and the first call to prayer comes at 4 AM. That is one of many things which keep me from Islam, another would be my inability to do anything five times a day, just not motivated I guess.
The first night I woke up at 3 AM and an hour later I was awake with the sad voice started echoing it’s call through the night. I had gone to bed in the afternoon, jet lag is still giving me the business something fierce. I had been told the day before that the internet cafe around the corner was open 24/7, I thought I would venture out into the deep dark streets. Dank and unlit, rats like you wouldn’t believe, I mean everywhere. And every few steps reveal more nooks and crannies from which they appear, Which Indiana Jones was the one with the rats? I think the one with Sean Connery. I guess a big difference between me and Indiana Jones is that if memory serves when faced with rats he kept his cool whereas I shrieked the shriek of a little girl. EEEEEEK!!!!
And they were up at the internet, well, one guy was in the corner asleep on a bench, he woke up and looked at me bloodshot but went right back to sleep. After a bit I went back home.
So I read for a while, couldn’t go back to sleep, no way. Round 6 I thought I would go get some eggs to go with the potatoes I had picked up the day before. But the shop around the corner wasn’t open yet, so I figured I would just keep walking. Now, Surabaya is not at all in any way a city for pedestrians. I just told you about the automotive fiasco, how about there are no sidewalks at all. So you cling to the small ledges on the side of walls, or maybe a strip in the middle of the street with big trees to climb past or hop across breaks in the concrete slabs covering the gully of sewage on the side of the road. After a while the street ended, so I went left along the dirty river of black slime. It bubbles, it really does, it is creepy. I saw lots of men in broad daylight lining up along the banks pissing, I also saw some people fishing. The other bank was lined with the backs of shacks where people were collecting doing all manner of things that Indonesians do in their backyards early in the morning, laundry, cleaning, smoking, laughing. I kept walking. I came upon a huge group of woman aerobic dancers in the middle of an intersection jumping and clapping in sequence. One roadside tent had birds housed in hand made wooden cages garishly painted all over with dragons and suns. Here I go around the corner starting up another street, now it’s been a couple of hours walk, I was just about ready to turn around when a wall on the other side of the street caught my interest.

Chapter 3
The wall ran long ways on the other side of the street, it had carvings of animals in the jungle, elephants, bears, snakes and monkeys. Beyond the wall stood tall trees of lush green. Hmmmmm.
So crossing the street proved treacherous, I finally found two Indonesian ladies crossing and shadowed them thinking it would make it safer somehow, nope. Cars were whizzing by us on all sides, I felt like I was in the game Frogger, remember Frogger? Well I was the frog.
So I got across and started walking along the wall with the animals. Along the way people tried to sell me strings of peanuts on stems strung together. I passed them up, more into whatever this strange wall represented. At the end of the wall around a corner came my answer. If you would stop reading, just for a moment and open a google page, type in Surabaya and do an Image search. See the statue of the shark fighting the alligator? That is what I saw around the corner from that wall. It stands in the entrance of the zoo, oh lucky day, I found the zoo! And it was just about to open. Children waited by the metal que rail which had become an Olympic gymnastics bar for the restless little ones. An old lady tried desperately to sell me a sprig of peanuts, I was about to say no but somewhere in her eyes I saw desperation, and I do love peanuts, what the hell? Right? It costs less than a penny. She was so happy to sell me those peanuts, she kept saying “terima kosih” over and over. And then about three or four vans of people in red jumpsuits with red hats showed up, I have no guess here, but the vibe was something like an elks club or some such. We waited in the heat for the zoo to open, my old peanut lady came running up and grabbed my arm thanking me again. I think that with the little money I gave her for the peanuts she was able to go get just enough food to keep her going.
Finally the doors opened, I got in the line with the red jump suits and was quickly drummed out into another line, “Mistah, mistah, you go this line, you go this line” Ok, it’s cool, it’s cool. Sorry! I can just go over here.
Later that day I found out the zoo was one of the oldest in the world. A lot of the water the animals had to swim in didn’t look particularly clean, but it was at least better than the rest of the water in Surabaya. Mainly there were lots of monkeys and lots of birds. In a few places moss covered rock wall stairs led into empty concrete enclosures overgrown with forest vines and green canopy in the middle of a small Forrest, like finding the zoo of some defunct ancient civilization. Some of these overgrown paths were blocked by wooden bars so old they were covered with ivy and disappeared into foliage. The poor elephants had nowhere near enough room and the baboons were playing with the plastic trash that had washed up from their moat, but the giraffe looked happy enough, as did the tigers. At one point two monkeys were playing in the middle of the walkway, no cage of any kind, just free monkeys playing. The monkeys were surrounded by a sea of children who were slack jawwed with the show until one little girl saw me. She pointed and called to her parents. All the Children turned their attention to me, as a white guy I seem to be more of a draw to children than two monkeys dancing a few feet away. Later, next to the white tiger a man wanted me to pose for a picture with his family. The tiger was not in frame.
After spending a few hours with the animals I started heading back. I guess I walked something like 8 to 10 miles that day give or take. On the way home I remembered to pick up some eggs for lunch, too late for breakfast. When I got home the maid smiled and said things in Indonesian so I smiled and told her about my walk and about going to the zoo, and that I was going to make eggs and potatoes for lunch. She seemed pleased to hear all about it, even though she didn’t know what I was saying.
Later I hung out drinking beer in the afternoon heat with my housemates. Then for a while I read my lonely planet Indonesian guidebook, I started hatching a plan, big idea here. I am going to say it is the beginnings of what I hope to become the big trip of this year. It will take place at the end of my year contract and I am already saving up for it. If I can make it happen you can expect me talking and planning the big trip later on.
Late in the afternoon I got tired and slept until 4 am. That was yesterday, my first day on the job. I should tell you that story but I think that will come later on too. Now it is Tuesday at 7 AM, I have been up since the 4 o’clock call to prayer writing. Time to see if I can rustle up breakfast and live another day in Surabaya. Wish me luck.

Hey, if you are reading this you have my thanks. This is the strange time for me so I do dig getting emails and comments and that sort of thing, all alone in Asia here. I love you guys.

16 Responses to “Day One”

  1. I saw that picture of the statue a few days ago trying to find something for the blog design. It’s cool to hear you are there and to know the landmark. (

    Also, do us all a favor and double space your paragraphs, easier to read. Thanks!

    You should not make any attempts to speak to the maid until you can say something really impressive, sweet and carry a conversation. She’ll love the surprise.

    Have you gotten your camera cord in the mail yet? I need to show you how to use the blog to embed pictures into the blog post, that functionality is built in already.

    Thanks for the post! Keep them coming.

  2. Cydne Mayberry says:

    That statue is awesome!!
    I’m all excited for you and can’t wait to read about the big trip.
    Next time you are out take a moment to invest in your sanity by investing in some ear plugs – 4am sounds painful.

  3. Amy Bugg Burke says:

    You’re so brave Will! I am such a wimpy homebody that there is no way I would venture into the streets of a strange country at 4 am, dodging rats all the way to the internet! I think you just love Asia because you are such a sensation there! =) I will be interested in knowing more about your sweet (we assume) maid once you are able to communicate more with her. Sounds like the beginnings of a grand adventure…when do you start work?

  4. will says:

    Marcus, I have had the cord all along, my stepmother is confused. Double space, you got it!
    Cydne, yes, I have the earplugs and that is what I am going to try tonight! Good idea!
    Amy Burke, this morning I got out a book and tried to do some maid translation. Turns out that after four days the poor woman was asking me my name. We now have it all sorted out, but still we tell each other things.
    Thanks a lot for reading you guys!

  5. Doug Brown says:

    Right next door to the mosque? Location, location. Still, perhaps it’ll blend in after awhile. And anyhow, it is somewhat pleasant to get yanked out of slumber by some obligation to which you hold no obesiance.

  6. Will Sanders says:

    It sort of does, I imagine you know all about that noise. The idea I had was a text message buisness that texts a call to prayer and does so silently. I could rake it in from the faithful.
    Have fun in Atlanta!!!

    • Doug Brown says:

      It tends to get louder during Ramadan, if my experience is to be any guide here. So you got that look forward to. Unless yr texting plan takes off. You still on sham status? Working your maid to the bone, one assumes, while drinking, wait, what does one drink in Indonesia anyhow?

  7. Will Sanders says:

    Louder? Good news is I actually get a week off for Ramadan. I will be in Indonesia but running around doing my thing. So far it seems like people in Indonesia drink beer. There was this yellow shit in Sumatra that came fermented out of the tops of palm trees called Tuack but I don’t see any here. I still don’t know the local ghetto drink. But if such an animal exists have no doubt or fear I will make an ass out of myself while drinking it. Of that we must all be certain.

  8. Carson says:

    tell your maid I said hello! two of many things I love about that story – you had a beautiful idea while competely overlooking the most obvious and, apparantly, you didn’t bother to find out her name, you lazy pampered round eye!

  9. Will Sanders says:

    No, no, no. I did know her name, she is Parmi, I had just neglected to tell her mine. She was following me around quizing me on it. Now we communicate with a lot of hand gestures, the other night my room mates Indonesian Girlfriend told me Parmi told her I could speak Indonesian. So now that we are straight on the names we communicate just fine. But you are right, I am a lazy pampered round eye, no doubt.

  10. Mom says:

    Hey, wonderful blog site. Remember the story about the lighthouse keeper? The foghorn didn’t go off one time, and he jumped out of bed yelling “what was that?” You may just fall into the rhythm of the Imam. This is a great way to get news. You are having an adventure for all of us…… Terima koshi.

  11. mark says:

    Hahaha…warned you about the masjid dude – 7 months in and they still get on my tits (not my dead grandmothers). Actually have a tentative plan to get some people to go to pulau madura from 20th to 24th may…will let u know details f u wanna join. N please tell more about ur travel plans…in june i go gillis then, after i drop by to see ur sorry ass, head off to maluku and papua for 10 weeks of adventure :)
    Sampai jumpa lagi

  12. Andrew Carlisle says:

    Indonesia sounds pretty great and terrifying at the same time. I’m loving your postings. Keep em coming. We just had our interviews a couple days ago for our Taiwan jobs. Should know in a week or so. Then we’d be over in your part of the world in a little over three months! Thanks again for all the awesome advice. Good luck with everything!

  13. Will Sanders says:

    Hey Andrew, that is great news. Enjoy it. If you have any more questions I am really more than happy so ask away, more people should be figuring this out too. Have fun over there, be careful and all that, and let me know if you find any no holds bared Taipai death matches.

  14. Judy H. says:

    Hey Will!

    I’m so enjoying your blog posts…your life sounds so amazing and interesting there!!! I hope you are becoming more immune to the 4am wake up calls!

    take care, and I will definitely keep up with you via the blog!


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