Don’t be fooled by its melodious name.
Surabaya is a hot, dirty and industrial hub on Java’s NE coast.
Even so, it at least feels like a real Indonesian city - unlike impersonal Jakarta - and it has plenty of character to boot.
During my years in Surabaya I had a house just off one of the city’s main thoroughfare’s, Jalan Diponegoro. A mere stone’s throw from Dolly, SE Asia’s largest red light district. Over 15,000 women ply their trade there – a lot of woman by any measure.
A bloody incredible place. Like they took a huge honky-tonk Mexican border town and simply moved it piece by piece to Surabaya. Row upon row of little shacks. The streets full of young women, old hags, greasy pimps, roaming minstrels, destitute beggars, even little kids.
I remember one time taking a curious mate there who had managed to get away from his girlfriend and just wanted to look around and take a few photos.
We were of course soon surrounded by pimps. And one in particular was very very persistent. So persistent in fact that he would simply not take no for an answer.
“What sort of girl do you want?” “Big, small, slim, fat….”
“…young, not so young, er.. very young?”
He just kept on and on, unshakable in his conviction that two young bules could only possibly be there for one thing. And it was up to him to come up with the goods.
Then my mate snapped.
“Okay. What I want is a nice young girl with no legs. Can you get me that?”
The pimp didn’t understand, so I had to translate. “Cewek muda. Cantik. Tapi tanpa kaki. Tanpa kaki sama sekali.”
He looked at us bemused, and went off. Thank God for that.
Anyway, we then find a place where we can sink a few beers and play billiards.
I’m at the table, contemplating a difficult shot with the white ball on the cushion, and the pimp comes up to me, bends down and says, “Okay mister. Girl no legs. I have. You wait two hours okay?”
Postscript: it later dawned on me that the pimp was probably being deadly serious. There used to be a pretty down-to-earth disco in a Chinese area of the city where Pasar Atom was located. And one of the regulars was a young lady who had no legs; or at least legs that were shriveled up due to some awful birth defect caused from a drug like thalidomide. The first time I saw her I was terribly shocked of course. But then again, I also realized that - in a way - her presence in the disco was very inspiring and demonstrated great courage. I mean she could have chosen to lock herself away in some room somewhere, but here she was enjoying herself. I had a lot of respect for her...